Representatives from Active Minds, SHAPE, Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault, the Women's Center and the Center for Awareness, Response and Education united in Fisk Hall on Monday night for a discussion about sexual violence on college campuses. The event, "NU Active Minds Talks Back: A Discussion of Sexual Assault," was held in response to a recently-published account of a former Amherst College student's sexual assault.
“We were planning on a series of talks about healthy relationships and stalking," said Weinberg senior and NU Active Minds co-president Katie Sanford. "But when we heard about the Amherst student account and the Northwestern student, we knew we had to do something right away.”
Laura Stuart, a sexual health education and violence prevention coordinator at CARE, spoke about the function of CARE along with the creation and consolidation of sexual health education and sexual violence prevention services on Northwestern’s campus in recent years. In addition to an explanation of the services available at Northwestern, Stuart also spoke about University policy in an instance of alleged sexual assault, including the role of the Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System, CARE, Counseling and Psychological Services and Northwestern University Police.
The increased role of universities in disciplinary procedures for sexual assault, Stuart explained, partially stemmed from a "Dear Colleague" letter released by the Office for Civil Rights in 2011, which states that discrimination against sexual assault victims constitutes a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. However, Stuart said that the increased role did not make reporting sexual assaults any easier.
Following Stuart's explanations, Medill senior Ceri Roberts asked about the procedure for unofficially or anonymously reporting sexual assault on campus. The roundtable discussion was largely led by recent graduate Cassy Byrne (WCAS '12), who came back to campus solely for the event as the issue was "very dear" to her. Byrne asked questions about procedure in instances when multiple survivors who have not reported their assaults have the same perpetrator and the likelihood of a Northwestern student being placed under psychiatric care following an assault.
Stuart responded that, in cases at Northwestern, students would only be sent to psychological wards in instances when the mental health or physical safety of the victim was considered to be in immediate danger.
Roberts also asked about the "snowballing" effect of multiple survivors coming forward with accounts of their assaults in recent weeks, which Stuart credited in large part to the greater amount of resources available to campus health services. She also emphasized that, although CARE is available to students for counseling, other resources would be provided for students that wished to pursue criminal charges against their assailants. Stuart also encouraged students to become members of the Campus Coalition on Sexual Violence in order to continue furthering change.
Sanford, who was pleased to be working with the various groups on this issue, was happy that people came forward with informed questions about the issue of sexual assault.
“The issue is we understand it, but when you’re the victim you may not see it that way and may not want to label yourself as a victim because of the stigma that comes with it," Sanford said. "Our main goal is to fight stigma.”