As President Barack Obama launched an initiative to combat sexual assault at college campuses across the nation Wednesday, one may wonder what resources exist to prevent and handle sexual assault on the Charles River campus.
“The prevalence of rape and sexual assault at our Nation’s institutions of higher education is both deeply troubling and a call to action,” Obama stated in a Wednesday memorandum from the White House. “Although schools have made progress in addressing rape and sexual assault, more needs to be done to ensure safe, secure environments for students of higher education.”
Obama established a task force of college administrators that will be given 90 days to create a list of recommendations for preventing and handling cases of sexual assault on campus, according to the memorandum.
Boston University Police Department officials make efforts to prevent sexual assault by offering programs and advice to help students avoid incidents of sexual assault during freshman orientation and periodically throughout the year, said BUPD Detective Lt. Peter DiDomenica.
“We have the Rape Aggression Defense course which is provided free to students,” he said. “…It’s kind of a self defense course for women. We also provide advice for not becoming a victim, like not making yourself vulnerable by consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, accepting drinks from people, etc.”
Reported sexual assaults at BU in 2013 included four incidents of assault and six incidents of indecent assault and battery. DiDomenica said these numbers are fairly normal for a college campus.
“Some cases result in an immediate arrest, but we find frequently that these are reported well after the event occurred, said DiDomenica. “They are very difficult for people to report, and unfortunately it gets delayed sometimes weeks, or even months … The more time the victim waits to report, the less options we have to collect forensic evidence.”
Women in college face a high risk of sexual assault, according to a White House Council on Women and Girls report, entitled “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action.” Every one in five women has been a victim of attempted sexual assault in college, in addition to a significant number of men, the report stated.
Students who have been victims of sexual assault are encouraged to report the incident and seek help. BU’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center and the Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism are a source of support for victims.
“Students turn to SARP for assistance after a trauma,” said SARP Director Maureen Mahoney. “We provide free of charge, confidential assistance that varies according to the circumstances. The most important thing we do is provide students with accurate information about their options so a student can make informed decisions about what courses of action are best for them.”
Aside from the agencies on campus that are meant to provide solace for victims of sexual assault, victims may also find support in “Surviving Numbers,” a Tumblr account and non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness for sexual assault.
“‘Surviving Numbers’ started out as a project meant to raise awareness at different campuses about sexual assault,” said Ali Safran, creator of the blog. Safran has worked with BU students in the past to generate submissions, according to a Boston.com article.
“…I wanted to raise awareness of the fact that it [sexual assault] happens everywhere and that its not unique to one school.
After experiencing sexual assault in high school, Safran decided to create a blog where people victims of sexual assault could submit a poster talking about their experience with sexual assault.
While Obama’s task force is a great step for sexual assault prevention, Safran said she hopes members of the task force will search for more input from people closer to the source of the problem in colleges.
“Currently the task force is made up of great people for sure, people on his staff and people on the Council for Women and Girls,” said Safran. “But I also think it’s important for him to get feedback from people who have experienced sexual violence so that he can take that into account and see what their recommendations might be.”