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(en) wsm.ie - Sexual Assault: What Colleges Can Do by Tom Murray

Date Tue, 16 Feb 2016 14:05:27 +0200

An investigation is currently under way at University College Dublin following reports that up to 200 male students allegedly shared explicit images of women they had sexual relations with. The incident not only highlights a culture of misogyny in Irish universities, it also calls attention to the absence of material supports for effectively responding to sexual assault on campus. But what kinds of supports should students demand from Irish universities? ---- Trigger Warning: Discusses rape and ‘revenge porn’ image sharing ---- Sexual assault is an urgent problem on Ireland’s university campuses. According to research published by the Union of Students in Ireland last week, 11 per cent of female respondents claimed that they had been subject to unwanted sexual contact. 5 per cent of women recorded that they were survivors of rape and a further 3 per cent were survivors of attempted rape. In a 2015 survey by Trinity College Dublin Student Union, one in four female TCD students said they had had a non-consensual sexual experience. (Just over 5% of male students had been subjected to an unwanted sexual experience).

These figures probably underestimate the scale of the problem. According to the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, only 1 in 10 rapes are reported. When asked by the USI for explanations of why they did not report matters to the Gardaí students’ two most frequent responses were (i) that they did not believe the incident was serious enough to report (57 per cent); and (ii) that they did not think that what happened was a crime (44 per cent)

The recent ‘revenge porn’ incident at UCD and the university’s response to it must be understood in this wider context of the state’s material neglect of support services for rape survivors. While Rape Crisis centres across the country offer counselling to about 2,500 people annually, the centres suffered funding cuts worth just over a €1million between 2008 and 2014.

In this context, Irish universities tend to mirror the state’s approach and avoid resourcing counselling programmes or on-campus rape crisis centres. Instead, universities tend to focus predominantly on sanctions for those involved in breaches of their student dignity codes. Somewhat exceptionally, recent reports suggest that sexual-consent classes are available to first-year students at NUI Galway and IT Tralee, while Trinity College Dublin has recently announced the introduction of mandatory consent workshops. Clearly, an appropriate campus-based sexual assault programme should involve more than punishing offences after the event. Two further goals are necessary: education about sexual violence and prevention of sexual assault.

The Rape Treatment Centre (RTC) at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Centre has advanced the following 10 point programme for responding to the problem of sexual assault on campus. It is reproduced here not as a template to copy but simply to provoke thought and conversation about whether Irish third-level institutions provide anywhere near the same level of material resources, sensitivity, or policy comprehensiveness. So what exactly should students and staff – men, women, and trans - demand of their fellow students and of university administrations in Ireland? Let us know in the comments…

UCLA Programme

1. Official policy statement: Develop and give to every student an official, written policy statement regarding sexual misconduct. Include information about the definition and prevalence of sexual assault, the circumstances in which it commonly occurs, what to do if it happens, university sanctions, campus resources, and prevention strategies. The policy should strongly encourage victims to report these incidents.

2. Definition of sexual misconduct: Provide the campus community with a clear definition of the behaviors that constitute sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct that the university considers unacceptable and sanctionable. The same definition should be used in the institution's sexual assault policy statement and the student conduct code provisions that prohibit sexual misconduct.

3. Protocol for managing reported cases: Formulate a written "action plan" that outlines how the school will respond when incidents of sexual misconduct are reported, including who will be notified, what procedures will be implemented, and how the rights of victims and accused students will be protected. Formalized procedures help ensure that victims receive the support and services they need, as well as facilitate compliance with school policies and legal mandates.

4. Systems for gathering and disseminating information about sexual misconduct: Initiate systems for obtaining information about incidents of sexual misconduct that impact members of the campus community -- reported cases as well as those that are not officially brought to the attention of authorities. Develop methods for informing the campus community about these incidents, including strategies for giving "timely warnings" as required by federal law.

5. Comprehensive services for victims: Establish a coordinated network of services to ensure that victims have access to the range of medical, legal, psychological, safety, advocacy, and other support services they need. Campus-based and/or community resources should be utilized.

6. Educational programs: Institute comprehensive educational programs that reach all members of the campus community. Utilize a variety of strategies to provide students, faculty, and staff with opportunities to acquire information about sexual assault and develop behavioral skills that will enable them to enhance their own personal safety, as well as contribute to the safety of other members of the campus community.

7. Clear student conduct code provisions: Ensure that the college or university's conduct code specifically addresses the problem of sexual assault. Code provisions should include a strong prohibition against sexual misconduct, a clear definition of the school's jurisdiction in these cases, and a listing of the rights and protections the school affords both victims and accused students.

8. Fair disciplinary procedures: Establish procedures that ensure fairness to both victims and accused students. Educate hearing panel members about the unique characteristics of sexual assault and sexual misconduct cases. Provide safeguards to prevent conflict-of-interest situations in disciplinary proceedings.

9. Campus security measures: Implement measures to decrease the risk of sexual assaults on campus, including adequate lighting, effective residence hall security systems, escort services, timely notifications of reported crimes, and ongoing information campaigns.

10. Ongoing assessment of policies, procedures, and programs: Conduct regular and timely evaluations of all campus sexual assault policies and programs.

Words: Tom Murray

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