YCC backs sex assault policy study

The Yale College Council called for the formation of a panel to review the University’s sexual assault and education policies in a resolution it passed unanimously Sunday night.

The resolution, authored by Erin Carlstrom ’05, Alan Kennedy-Shaffer ’06 and Steven Syverud ’06, is a response to the University’s “lax and inconsistent” reporting of sex crime statistics, among other YCC concerns, the document said. If the panel — composed of students, faculty, campus police and a Yale University Health Services representative — should find that Yale’s current policies are inadequate, the resolution urges the University to consider instituting a centralized response and prevention system similar to that at Harvard University as an option.

The passage of the resolution comes hard on the heels of a Feb. 13 town hall meeting in the Women’s Center at which students and advocacy groups discussed what they perceived as an unwillingness on the part of the administration to deal with issues of sexual violence.

But Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said she believes Yale College’s policies regarding sexual violence are adequate, although students may not be sufficiently informed about them.

“I think our policies our reasonably sound,” Trachtenberg said. “The only problem I see is people just don’t know about them.”

The resolution cited a recent survey conducted by the on-campus student group Rape and Sexual Violence Prevention, in which “most” students responded that they did not know what to do if they or someone they knew was sexually assaulted. Syverud said other Ivy League schools such as Columbia University and Dartmouth College have already enacted changes in their policies, both after high-profile cases of sexual assault.

“We don’t want to wait for a similar high-profile case here,” Syverud said.

Both members of the YCC and two members of RSVP present at the meeting criticized the resources currently available to sexual assault victims, calling them inadequate and too decentralized.

“Yale has the worst reputation for dealing with sexual assault,” RSVP media liaison Della Sentilles ’06 said. “A lot of people don’t feel confident in the existing resources, or even are aware that they exist.”

Currently, students have access to a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker trained in rape crisis counseling 24 hours a day, according to the Yale University Health Services Web site as well as student support groups.

The YCC’s resolution also suggests that the University is not in compliance with the 1998 Clery Crime Act, which requires all colleges and universities to release statistics on all sexual offenses reported to local police or campus security authorities.

During the meeting Sentilles said that the number of sexual crimes reported at Yale in 2003 was far below the national average, which she attributed to under-reporting by the University.

In response to the allegations, Trachtenberg denied that the University under-reports statistics on sexual offenses.

“It may have been true in the past, but it is not true now,” she said.

Kennedy-Shaffer criticized the structure of the University’s response system.

“This [resolution] is absolutely vital because it’s going to put in place something that is completely missing,” he said as he urged council members to “take a stand” on the issue.

But despite her endorsement of the College’s policies, Trachtenberg said she was not opposed to the fundamental idea of a review panel.

“Everything needs to be reviewed and improved after a certain amount of time,” she said.

YCC President Andrew Cedar ’06 said based on the feedback he has received from various administrators, he thinks the University will seriously consider the proposal.

“It’s important, and there’s no reason that they shouldn’t review this seriously,” Cedar said.

Syverud and the other authors will meet with Yale College Dean Peter Salovey after spring break to discuss the resolution.

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