RSVP aims to enhance rape counseling service

Members of the student advocacy group Rape and Sexual Violence Prevention and the students certified as rape crisis counselors met Thursday with officials from the University Health Services Department of Mental Hygiene to discuss the group’s concerns about resources available to rape victims on campus.

The meeting followed many previous dialogues between the group and members of the Yale administration. But RSVP members said little progress has been made toward offering sexual assault victims easy access to trained peer advocates or their ultimate goal of establishing a rape crisis center.

Liability issues currently prevent trained students from providing their services to victims, said Kathryn Johnson ’06, a certified rape crisis counselor and member of RSVP. Johnson said she hopes Yale may offer the counselors resources and the professional supervision they need.

Dean of Student Affairs Betty Tractenberg declined to comment about RSVP, which was formed this semester.

Johnson said she does not want to replace Mental Health counseling services, but hopes to offer an additional counseling choice for assaulted victims.

“The services we would like to provide in addition to the ‘Are you okay, do you want to go to the hospital?’ question is to provide a victim accompaniment to the hospital, as well as tell them their options legally and within the Yale system,” Johnson said.

Mental Hygiene Psychiatrist-in-Chief Lorraine Siggins said Mental Hygiene has a psychiatrist or psychologist on call at all times to counsel sexually assaulted victims. Siggins said UHS also provides professional counseling for students who seek help weeks or months after a sexual assault.

But Johnson said she thinks students are unaware of the counseling services currently available, and the first step toward offering more comprehensive service is to inform students of their options.

“Students don’t know [sexual assault] services are available to them through the UHS Urgent Care hotline number,” Johnson said.

Student-run hotlines CONSENT and Walden offer anonymous peer counseling for assault victims and others. But trained rape crisis counselor and RSVP member Sunny Kim ’06 said RSVP wants to provide continuing personal support rather than anonymous consultation.

Johnson said she thinks it is important that counselors with whom victims could form long-term relationships be available.

“[Victims] would benefit greatly from having a relationship with a qualified counselor who they can call at any time and say, ‘This is really bugging me, can we talk about this?’ without having to worry about a time limit being cut off — the ability to feel like they have support and they’re safe and they’re not dealing with adults who have authority over them or with doctors,” she said.

CONSENT and Walden public liaisons were not available for comment Thursday night.

Mental Hygiene counselors currently offer to accompany students to the hospital, Kim said, but she said she thinks students would feel more comfortable being accompanied by peers.

“[Students] go to peers anyway — we are peers who are also trained to handle these situations,” Kim said.

A student victim of sexual assault by another Yale student said she did not have a sexual assault advocate when she went to Yale-New Haven Hospital after reporting her assault at UHS, and said she feels the presence of an advocate would have helped guide her through the medical examination.

The student victim said she has received the most effective counseling from the regional group Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, Inc., even though she has seen psychiatrists at UHS.

“[Assault victims have] all had similar symptoms. It’s useful to know that it’s normal,” she said. “But part of the argument for not forming group counseling is to keep campus rape a hidden issue.”

Siggins said Mental Hygiene plans to begin a sexual assault support and education group in January.

RSVP member Monu Lahiri ’04 said she believes Yale needs a center for victims of sexual assault, like centers at Columbia and Harvard.

Students attend a meeting of Rape and Sexual Violence Protection Wednesday at the Yale Women's Center. The group believes the University needs a center for victims of sexual assault.
Neil Katsuyama
Students attend a meeting of Rape and Sexual Violence Protection Wednesday at the Yale Women's Center. The group believes the University needs a center for victims of sexual assault.

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