It is no secret that Yale’s policies regarding charges of sexual assault need to be overhauled. We assume that the internal review of the University’s Sexual Assault Grievance Board will do more to change those policies than the resolution passed by the Yale College Council, but we laud the YCC for frankly assessing the gaps recognized by existing campus outlets for such complaints. The Council may not offer perfect solutions to the problems they have named, but we urge the University to take the spirit of these concerns seriously.
At the heart of its resolution, the YCC seeks an official position exclusively dedicated to helping students who allege sexual assault in any way they may need, from medical care to psychiatric and legal counsel. Granted, the caveat of exclusivity seems unrealistic: With no more than a dozen cases of sexual assault reported at Yale last year, according to Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg, we cannot argue that the University needs a full-time position devoted solely to handling these cases. But such responsibilities should be clearly and primarily delineated to a capable Yale official whose job description qualifies him or her for this role. As it stands, the system is too muddled.
This lack of a central authority is by no means indicative of a lack of campus desire to address the problem of sexual assault. Between the Sexual Assault Grievance Board, the Yale College Dean’s Office and DUH support groups, as well as the peer counseling groups Consent and WALDEN and the student advocacy group Rape and Sexual Violence Prevention, there seems to be no shortage of recourse for students who have been sexually assaulted. But we agree with the assertions of YCC and RSVP members that these options remain too diffuse. While administrators have argued that a central figure might be too imposing for students seeking anonymity, the current system seems just as daunting. Students who have just been sexually assaulted should not have to research the half-dozen options available to them before they can try to begin moving forward.
Just as importantly, students need to know there are so many options available. Most of the organizations and official responses to sexual assault go poorly advertised and completely unadvertised, respectively, and while we obviously understand why the Dean’s Office would not want to post the mechanisms for reporting sexual assault on every kiosk in New Haven, there is no reason why a centralized authority, or even student groups, could not hold private “office hours” to address assault cases. While the YCC’s proposal of a formal board designed solely to increase awareness of sexual assault seems a bit much, we do not believe all of the onus to arrange meetings with those who can offer assistance should rest with the sexual assault victims.
It would certainly be easier for Yale to leave the public issues that come with sexual assault charges to city police and other local authorities. But for most students, University administrators are the local authorities. Yale already has a great deal of help available in cases of sexual assault, but a central authority remains the missing link in the support chain. If students have a primary source for aid that they know and trust, we believe that more than a dozen such undergraduates may come forward to seek help next year.