Group seeks to better rape response system

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Student representatives of the group Rape and Sexual Violence Prevention met with Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg yesterday to discuss potential changes to the University’s rape response policy.

The main issue RSVP brought to the meeting was the question of centralization, according to RSVP coordinator Kathryn Johnson ’06. Harvard University’s rape response program is located in a single Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, while she said Yale’s resources are, in general, harder to find.

“One of our main concerns is that people don’t know who to come to when they are sexually assaulted,” Johnson said. “We find that on Yale campus if you ask a bunch of students the question, ‘Where would you go if you were sexually assaulted?’ there are a variety of answers, whereas at Harvard, there’s only one place.”

Although Salovey stressed that Yale does have an infrastructure for aiding survivors of sexual assault, he admitted that the wide range of options available to Yale students might have a downside.

“[Our system] is decentralized a bit relative to the Harvard model, which can be confusing to students,” Salovey said. “We have help you can get through the health plan, and the rape kit … is done at Yale-New Haven Hospital. … At Harvard, there’s a single office. I think it’s legitimate to ask, what are the advantages and disadvantages to these models? I haven’t come to any conclusions yet.”

While the meeting did not produce a substantive plan of action, both RSVP and administration representatives said they feel the issue deserved further attention. Johnson’s fellow coordinator Sunny Kim ’06 said the administration currently sees the issue as one of public education rather than bureaucratic change.

“The response we got was that Yale’s resources are enough, and it’s not a matter of needing an office in which to bring together all the resources, it’s a matter of effectively communicating what resources are available to students,” Kim said. “One thing that I totally agreed with them about was the lack of communication. The University is definitely failing in some respects to communicate what options students have, or even communicate that this is an issue that the University takes seriously.”

RSVP, which grew out of the annual Take Back the Night event at Yale, was founded to address issues of sexual violence on Yale campus, Kim said. They became concerned with Yale’s resources and response policies after an article in last summer’s issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine raised concerns that the administration was not in compliance with the Jeanne Clery Act, which requires all academic officials significantly involved with student affairs to be polled when collecting crime data, including instances of sexual assault.

The article led a non-profit watchdog organization, Security on Campus, to file suit with the Board of Education against Yale, but, Kim said, the administration claims to have fixed its former reporting issues.

“Since then we’ve been told by Dean Salovey and Dean Trachtenberg that the situation has been dealt with,” she said.

Salovey said that the issue of rape and sexual-violence response at Yale was a primary concern of the administration but stressed the complexity of the situation, which involves student life, student health and legal issues.

“I think we do want to confront and address it head-on, but it’s an issue with multiple components,” Salovey said. “We have a model, and we’re always interested in exploring alternative ways.”

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