Sitting in a plastic folding chair in front of Beinecke Plaza’s war memorial, a tall thin woman with blonde hair — introduced simply as Liz — gripped a single sheet of paper in her hands. She spoke deliberately but with obvious emotion to the 50 or so audience members gathered for Take Back the Night, an event sponsored by Rape and Sexual Violence Prevention to heighten understanding of sexual violence and its effects.
As rain clouds loomed ominously over Commons — and as some audience members fought back tears — Liz recounted what happened to her on the night of Oct. 5, 1984, when as a wide-eyed freshman at the University of Virginia she followed a friend to a fraternity near campus. At the party, one of the fraternity brothers served her a lime-flavored green drink that knocked her unconscious. Several of the men present then raped her in full view of anyone who would watch, Liz said, and she ran home the next morning after waking up on a filthy sofa covered in punch stains. In the intervening years before her graduation, Liz grappled with panic attacks, cutting, bulimia, low self-esteem and a GPA that plummeted to 2.6, she said.
The single sheet of paper, Liz said, contained the list of former and current Yale students who had survived similar trauma.
“I am really sorry that this list is kind of long,” she said. “But you’ll be fine. You’ll be better than fine. You have a great support system and a great university. You will find peace, and you will find hope, just as I have.”
With the full array of the University’s services at their disposal, Liz’s prediction about Yalies’ ability to find peace may well be true. This year, the University opened the Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources & Education center, a centralized resource for survivors of rape and sexual assault. But it has been more than five years since Yale undergraduates first began pushing the administration to provide such a service, prompted by numbers of reported rapes too low to believed and student concerns that the hodge-podge of resources available to survivors was too decentralized to be effective.
Now, initial fervor about the new “one-stop shop” for rape survivors has given way to worries that the University is not doing enough to make Yalies aware of the resources available to them. While administrators contend that the SHARE center is only a year old, some argue that Yale has unfairly shifted the burden of publicizing the center onto students. Critics allege that Yale is trying to keep its pristine image intact by maintaining the low number of reported on-campus sex crimes; administrators shoot back that many obstacles to the accurate reporting of sex crimes are outside of the University’s control. Students who want to increase awareness of the center need to “roll up their sleeves” and publicize it themselves, officials said.
Meanwhile, the SHARE center’s director acknowledges that few students know about the office and even fewer have passed through its doors. With no University-sponsored publicity, no explicitly allocated funding this year and an office isolated from the rest of the University’s health services, is SHARE a grudging attempt by the University to save face or a genuine, no-holds-barred effort to protect students’ health and well-being?
An office with a mission
The SHARE center’s second-floor office at 55 Whitney Avenue is drab and nondescript. The fluorescent overhead lighting and standard-issue carpeting lend the mostly empty reception area — which contains a couple of chairs and computers pushed against the back wall — the feeling of an abandoned waiting room. A small counseling room off to the right contains a bookshelf full of literature on sex crimes and a drop box in which survivors can deposit written accounts of their experiences. The room’s beat-up chairs and couches are leftovers that other University offices had planned to throw out.
SHARE center Director Carole Goldberg hopes that the newly operational center will serve as an information resource for students who want to learn more about issues related to sexual violence. It functions both as an emergency response center, offering a 24-hour hotline for students seeking direction immediately after an assault, and as a counseling center for students having longer-term difficulty dealing with the trauma of sexual assault.
“I think the University is very interested in protecting its students,” Goldberg said. “It has taken some education to let people know that the low numbers [of reported rapes] don’t necessarily reflect what is happening on campus. That’s always the part that’s hard to explain to people who are not directly involved in it on a day-to-day basis.”
The center, which has three other part-time employees, contains books, brochures, posters, DVDs and other literature — much of it from Goldberg’s own collection — that students can request for any purpose, even as research materials for a paper, she said. In late March, the center’s staff hosted an open house in an effort to make students aware of the resources SHARE offers.
An office with such a mission — to make sure that “every possible option would be put forth so the survivor could make his or her decision,” as former RSVP co-coordinator Kathryn Johnson ’06 put it — seemed necessary. Before SHARE, a highly decentralized network offered students a variety of avenues to report crimes. But the lack of a clear path may have discouraged survivors from seeking help: Residential college deans and masters, University Health Services, freshman counselors, the New Haven Rape Crisis Center and groups of student sounding boards such as Consent and Walden were all options. Students could also arrange for a rape kit to be done at Yale-New Haven Hospital if they wished to make a rape accusation, and then decide whether to seek assistance from the Yale Sexual Assault Grievance Board or to take the case to Connecticut state court.
In spring 2005, RSVP surveyed a group of Yale students — including members of the Women’s Center, peer health educators and freshman counselors — whom the group expected to be knowledgeable about the process of reporting a rape. The vast majority of those surveyed, RSVP co-coordinator Alexa Verme said, were confused about the proper procedure.
RSVP followed the survey up with an open forum in fall 2005. A panel discussed ways to increase the visibility of support programs for assaulted students. Although many at the forum advocated for a centralized sexual assault resource on campus, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg defended the decentralized system by arguing that it presented students with an array of different options, which she said would allow a survivor to choose his or her own course of action.
Last year, the Yale College Council passed a resolution calling on the University to revise its much-criticized system and “provide more easily understood and accessible service options,” said Larry Wise ’08, the resolution’s co-author.
It was not the first time Yale had come under fire for its approach to handling sex crimes on campus. In August 2004, the national watchdog organization Security On Campus, Inc., called for a federal investigation after an article published in the Yale Alumni Magazine criticized the University’s crime-reporting practices. The organization alleged that Yale was underestimating the number of rapes on campus because it did not report information supplied by school officials other than police, a practice that violates federal law.
Della Sentilles ’06, a former member of RSVP, said that although the charges were dropped when Yale announced it would revise its reporting procedure, the University has continued to report below-average numbers of rapes. In 2005, the last year for which statistics were available, Yale reported 12 sex crimes committed against students; in 2004, there were 14, and in 2003, eight. By contrast, the Department of Justice said that a Yale-sized campus likely sees 92 sex crimes each year.
“The fact that only like two are getting reported each year is not an indication that Yale is a safe campus,” Johnson said. “It is an indication that Yale is not taking care of its students.”
In addition, Yale Police Department officials at the 2005 forum had voiced concern that students were not reporting rapes quickly enough for legal action to be taken.
But at a private meeting with Sentilles, administrators, including Trachtenberg, used Yale’s low numbers to argue that sexual assault was not a big enough problem to merit a resource center, Sentilles said. University officials appeared concerned that establishing a special program for rape survivors would reflect negatively on a campus already known for its reputedly dangerous city environment, she said.
“It was a nightmare,” Sentilles said.
The publicity battle
SHARE was established following a seven-month internal review by the Sexual Harassment Grievance Board, a review that Salovey said he requested in the fall of 2005 after hearing “feedback from students that our approach to handling complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault was confusing.” The board, which released its findings last spring, recommended that the college create a new office under Yale University Health Services and publish a thorough annual summary of all sexual harassment and assault reports on campus.
The SHARE center was installed over the summer under the direction of Goldberg, who works a clinical psychologist with the YUHS Department of Mental Hygiene. Goldberg has acted as an adviser for sexual health-related campus groups and helped to establish sexual assault response protocols for Health Services over the past decade.
The SHARE center does not yet have a “fully developed” budget, but it is receiving University funding this year to cover staff members’ salaries, University Health Services Director Paul Genecin said.
“Expenses of running the center will come from other University sources while the program develops — and we will learn by experience,” he said in an e-mail.
While the center did not open to the Yale community until March 28, the SHARE hotline — at (203) 432-6653 — has been operational since the beginning of the academic year, Goldberg said. She declined to estimate how many calls the hotline has received.
But students who were initially pleased with the establishment of SHARE quickly grew skeptical of the administration’s efforts to promote sexual health awareness when they perceived what seemed like reluctance to publicize the new office to Yale students.
They expressed concern, for instance, that the University has refused to send out a campus-wide e-mail or any other notice to the student body announcing the establishment of the center.
Christine Slaughter ’07, a member of the Reproductive Rights Action League at Yale, said she thinks many students do not know what the SHARE center is or where it is located.
“It would behoove the University to do more publicity to make sure that people know that there is a center, period,” she said.
The only official mention of SHARE broadcasted to the student body was embedded in the school’s annual report on campus security, which was sent out to students in the fall of 2006. In the report, information about the center is summed up in a single line after one-and-a-half pages about all of the other options available to survivors. The center is misnamed the “Sexual Assault Prevention Resource Center,” and the report’s statement that the center will “augment current awareness programming on sexual assault” implies that SHARE is a subsidiary of the large resource network rather than its nerve center.
Administrators explained that the report was drafted in early spring before many details were known about the center. But RSVP co-chair Stacey Fitzgerald ’09 said she suspects the University has deliberately kept SHARE’s profile low to prevent a wave of students from seeking sexual assault assistance. Verme said she thinks the administration is invested in keeping the number of reported rapes at Yale as low as possible.
“Yale prides itself on having low rape statistics,” Verme said.
‘Rolling up their sleeves’
University officials have said students’ fears are misplaced. The low awareness about the SHARE program on campus is due both to the center’s relative youth and a lack of advertising, they said.
“It’s a question of time, of manpower, of womanpower,” Trachtenberg said. “It’s a new department. Usually, in any place, it takes a couple of years to get something entrenched in the minds of students and in the culture of a place.”
RSVP said it has repeatedly called on Salovey to publicize the center via a campus-wide e-mail, since students are more likely to trust an e-mail from the administration about sexual assault resources than a mass e-mail sent out by a student group. Verme said Salovey told RSVP that it is not his duty to publicize the activities of student groups and that the News had already publicized the center in a September 2006 article.
“[Salovey’s] rationale doesn’t make sense to me,” Verme said. “You would think he’d want SHARE to be used.”
But Salovey said his rationale for not sending out the e-mail has been mischaracterized. The University usually delegates responsibility for publicizing new resources to residential college masters and deans, he said.
“I followed our long-standing policy, which is that the Dean of Yale College only sends out campus-wide e-mail in very unusual (typically emergency) situations,” Salovey said in an e-mail. “Otherwise, all of our e-mail is treated as spam by recipients.”
But Berkeley student Axel Schmidt ’09, a peer health educator, said he does not think his college master or dean sent him an e-mail about the SHARE center.
Trachtenberg said groups like RSVP and the National Organization of Men’s Outreach for Rape need to be “active partners” in the effort to educate students about SHARE and other resources.
“The organizations that are critical could help us out with some of the publicity,” Trachtenberg said. “They can’t expect everything to be done for them … It takes student groups rolling up their sleeves.”
RSVP members said they decided to postpone advertising SHARE until after the University has taken the first step. Only a strong showing of administrative support, they said, will lend the office the legitimacy it deserves.
“The administration was asking us to do their work for them,” Johnson said.
Sarah Rankin, director of Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, said that although colleges must invest an effort in ensuring that students are aware of resources at their disposal, students tend to be more receptive to hearing about issues of sexual violence prevention from their peers.
“Students respond better to students telling them about this stuff than to us coming in and giving a workshop about sexual violence and how to prevent it,” she said. “But you also need to have buy-in for consistency. Students graduate after four years, so you need to have administrators [who] are willing to make sure that the services are institutionalized and will not go away because the vocal group of students that speak up graduate.”
Harvard’s OSAPR was established in 2003 after a committee of students, faculty and staff recommended that the university create a resource center for survivors of sexual assault, Rankin said. It puts on sexual assault prevention workshops for freshmen during orientation, recruits students to serve as peer educators and helps survivors with the medical and legal labyrinths they must navigate if they want to procure restraining orders, rape exams or counseling referrals, Rankin said. Although she does not have the numbers, Rankin said there was a “dramatic jump” in the number of reported sex crimes within a year of the opening of OSAPR.
Trachtenberg said that while she agrees that the number of rapes and sexual assaults on Yale’s campus is underreported, she thinks the low numbers are most likely due to survivors’ fears about confronting their attackers. Often, male members of the community will pressure sexual assault survivors not to “make waves,” she said.
“People are intimidated by their attackers not to report them,” she said. “There are women who feel that it was [their] fault — she feels that if she had dressed differently or behaved differently it wouldn’t have happened.”
Goldberg agrees: Encouraging proper reporting of sexual assault is inherently difficult.
“I think it’s hard,” Goldberg said. “I think that it’s something that we all should be doing together. And I think unfortunately with a topic like this a lot of people don’t look for the information until they need it … I’ve been very pleased with a lot of the interest and support and the enthusiasm of student groups that focus on sexual assault.”
Goldberg said she has not encountered resistance from administrators anxious that it will produce higher rates of reported sex crimes that could stain the University’s name; though she cannot speak to Salovey’s rationale about a campus-wide e-mail, she does not think the decision was “designed not to advertise it.” There was a “very solid collaborative effort” among the Dean’s Office, the Yale Police Department, University Health Services and emergency room officials while the University was establishing SHARE, she said, and the Sexual Harassment Grievance Board and the Executive Committee have both been helpful in thinking about ways to make SHARE more visible on campus.
The administration’s allocation of money for the freshman orientation program Sex Signals and for speakers such as Brett Sokolow — who charged $4,000 for a talk he delivered in the fall titled “Drunk Sex or Date Rape: Can You Tell the Difference?” — demonstrates its commitment to reducing sex crimes on campus as much as possible, Goldberg said.
“I think it’s something everybody agreed was a good idea,” Goldberg said. “In my experience and all of the organizing this and working on this for about six years now, it didn’t ever feel like, ‘No, we don’t want to talk about it because we don’t want it to be advertised.’”
But in the meantime, even the students responsible for dispensing information to their peers are fuzzy on what exactly SHARE is: Sabrina Khan ’07, a freshman counselor, wrote in an e-mail that she had been instructed to direct freshmen to her residential college dean and master if they have been sexually assaulted.
“I don’t know about SHARE,” she said.
Although Peer Health Educator Brittany Kelso ’09 said in an e-mail that the University does a “wonderful job of providing sexual health resources,” she did not immediately recall hearing of SHARE’s existence.
“The SHARE thing does sound familiar, but honestly I may have deleted the e-mail,” she said.
‘I buried her’
With a flag waving in the wind beside her and a captive audience seated in front of her, Liz finished her 20-minute tale.
“The woman I was on October 5th died that night,” Liz said. “I buried her. I kept her clothes in a bag in my closet for about a year, and then one morning at 3 o’clock I went out to a cemetery where there was a trash can and burned them.”
Liz’s long healing process is not complete, but she is “not broken,” she insists. Her principal attacker is currently serving 18 months in a Virginia prison, but her case took 20 years to reach a trial — a delay Liz said was due in large part to confusion within the dean’s office at UVA. According to an e-mail she received from her university in November 2005, records relating to her case at the school’s police department cannot be located.
Turning SHARE into a central resource that would preclude this sort of confusion will take time and experimentation, Goldberg said. For now, she said, she and the center’s staff will continue to reach out in the best ways they know how — hosting monthly discussion groups in the center’s office, providing training to freshman counselors and seeking to bring more speakers to campus — to ensure that the SHARE acronym becomes a standard part of every Yalie’s vocabulary.
In the end, Slaughter said, SHARE represents a productive start that will hopefully open the gateway to a campus genuinely engaged with the concerns of survivors of sexual assault and rape.
“It’s a good step that the University created at least a nominally centralized system for now,” she said. “But we have a long way to go.”