Univ. to open sexual assault center

After a seven-month internal review by the Sexual Harassment Grievance Board and years of pressure from student groups, the Yale College Dean’s Office will announce in the coming days the establishment of an on-campus center for sexual assault education and counseling.

The Dean’s Office will simultaneously release the report issued by the Grievance Board last semester following the review of the University’s handling of undergraduate sexual assault reports, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said Wednesday. Both announcements will soon be available online, she said.

These moves follow several years of requests from the Rape and Sexual Violence Prevention advocacy group, the Yale College Council and other student organizations for increased centralization of the University’s resources for sexual assault victims.

The board’s report contained two main recommendations: the creation of a new office under Yale University Health Services devoted entirely to issues of sexual assault and a more thorough annual summary of all sexual assault and harassment reports at Yale.

“It is our hope and expectation that the transparency of the system … will not only help assaulted students access support but also foster a community that is deeply aware and responsive to issues of sexual assault,” stated the report, which was authored by the seven members of the Grievance Board.

RSVP co-coordinator Allyson Goldberg ’08 said she thinks both of the board’s recommendations are steps in the right direction and will encourage more victims of sexual assault to come forward and seek help.

“Because sexual assault can be a really traumatic thing to deal with, when someone is faced with that kind of an issue it’s really helpful to know exactly what to do and where to go,” she said.

But Goldberg said she thinks it has taken the administration too long to make these changes.

“I think there was evidence that this was needed years ago,” Goldberg said.

Traditionally, the network for addressing issues of sexual harassment and assault on campus has been highly decentralized. Several “entry points” — such as residential college deans and masters, University Health Services, freshman counselors, and a number of student groups including Consent, RSVP and Walden — are available to students.

But some student organizations said the lack of one clear option could be confusing for victims and might discourage them from getting help. Critics of Yale’s sexual assault resources have often pointed to Harvard’s sexual assault statistics, which are consistently and significantly greater than those reported by Yale, as evidence that the University may be underreporting incidents on its campus.

Harvard reported 24, 16 and 29 cases of alleged sex offenses in 2002, 2003 and 2004, respectively, according to U.S. Department of Education Campus Security Statistics Web site. Yale reported three, five and four cases for those same years. Statistics for 2005 were unavailable at press time.

Trachtenberg said the Grievance Board reviewed its reporting of incidents related to sexual assault and harassment in response to widespread criticism of these statistics.

Alexandra Suich ’08, a member of the board, said that although the number of sexual assault cases reported by Yale each year has been significantly lower than the number reported by Harvard, part of the difference was technical. Suich said Yale was reporting incidents based exclusively on federal reporting definitions, which do not take into account incidents that occur off campus.

“We were just collecting data differently,” she said.

The new Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources and Education Center will be headed by Dr. Carole Goldberg, a clinical psychologist in Yale’s Department of Mental Hygiene and the Department of Health Education. She and an in-house health education team will be responsible for coordinating a 24-hour hotline and sexual assault counselors in addition to educational materials and follow-up programs, according to University announcements.

“[The SHARE Center] will be a place where students can drop in to talk about their concerns and experiences, and/or access education materials,” the statement issued by the Dean’s Office said.

Goldberg was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

The center will be located at 55 Whitney Ave., near University Health Services. The building is currently being renovated, and the anticipated opening date has not been released.

The Grievance Board issued its report on April 27, but decided not to release it publicly until the opening of the new school year, Trachtenberg said.

“It was just too late,” she said. “We wanted to send it out and make it available when people were here and not on their way home [or] going into the midst of finals and reading week. We thought it would get buried.”

Last semester, the Yale College Council passed a resolution asking the administration to overhaul its system of reporting and responding to accusations of sexual assault. The resolution called for a University position dedicated solely to education and support for victims of sexual assault, the creation of a formal board to increase campus awareness of sexual assault issues and a more accurate approach toward documenting sex offense claims.

“We are excited to see the University take this critical step in addressing sexual harassment on campus,” YCC Secretary Zach Marks ’09 said.

The SHARE Center’s Rape Crisis Hotline is currently operational and can be reached at 432-6653.

Goldberg said this number has been given to members of the Class of 2010, and she hopes it will become the first place students think of calling when faced with matters of sexual assault and harassment.

“This is definitely no secret,” she said. “People should be calling.”

Comments