Two weeks ago, victims of sexual assault at Yale told their stories. As part of Take Back the Night, survivors of sexual violence congregated around the Women’s Table where they participated in a 12-hour speak out. Behind them, a clothesline of T-shirts displayed messages such as “The man who raped me is still at Yale.”
As women revealed their personal narratives, passersby interrupted with comments to each other: “Hey, watch out. She might sexually assault you.” Hours after survivors put their T-shirts on display, several disappeared. And finally at the rally and vigil, Stephanie Urie, a former Yale Divinity School student shared her own experiences, only to be met with voices from Trumbull College shouting hateful names. By the time Yale Police got to the room where the hecklers were spotted, they had already fled.
What took place at the Take Back the Night rally is a case of cowardice in its worst form. There are students who are in denial of the fact that women at this institution are victims of sexual violence. The actions of the event’s “counter-protesters” demonstrate that denial quite clearly. And while others may acknowledge the existence of rape on our own campus, they criticized the event for what they perceived as its confrontational nature. They claimed that sexual violence is a crisis for which only an individual can be held accountable, not a university.
The fact is that rape happens at Yale, just as rape happens everywhere. Every two minutes, somewhere in America, a woman is sexually assaulted. One out of four females will be sexually assaulted before they are 18. And if the stories of Stephanie Urie and other Yale women inspire aggression rather than bring those statistics close to home, what we are facing is most certainly an institutional problem.
I’m not suggesting that the University should take responsibility for its students’ actions. Yet so long as the University treats sexual violence as a marginal issue rather than a real and pervasive problem, students will have the same perspective.
Acknowledging that rape is a campus-wide problem is difficult. But it is also something that the University needs to do. At Yale, there is currently no single procedure specifically for victims of sexual assault. Victims can turn to the Consent hotline, run by students who treat rape as an emotional, psychological issue rather than a crime. Students can also go to the Chaplain’s or the Dean’s office or the Sexual Harassment Student Grievance Board, but also for emotional support. Victims of assault are already overcome with guilt, anxiety and fear. By obscuring the services available for students, the University is not helping to mitigate those feelings.
When a woman at Yale experiences sexual assault, there is no single, central location to which she knows to turn. Students who experience sexual assault need an advocate to speak on their behalf. Asking victims immediately after the assault to retell their stories to multiple groups of strangers is an unnecessary burden that women are forced to assume.
In October 2002, Harvard University created an Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response that provides confidential, 24-hour assistance to students seeking access to information and resources. Susan Marine, the director of the Office, works full-time with students who seek support and resources after an assault. Princeton has a central office — Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources, Education, or SHARE — to which students know to go after experiencing sexual harassment and sexual violence. And in October 2001, New York University created the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention, Education and Support (SAPES). When universities streamline the services available for survivors, victims know exactly where they can receive emotional and physical treatment. And the campus community as a whole cannot close its eyes to the fact that rape is a reality.
Yale cannot be afraid to institutionalize rape counseling. By concealing the University’s support mechanisms under a web of bureaucratic procedures, Yale is not only alienating the victims. They are also alienating students from the reality of rape at Yale. When Yale creates its own Office of Sexual Assault, perhaps students will acknowledge that sexual violence actually happens. Even at Yale.
Benita Singh is a senior in Branford College. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.