The Women Faculty Forum, the provost’s office and the Sexual Misconduct Committee have all weighed in over the past year on reforming sexual misconduct policy at Yale. These administrators have made many good recommendations for improving how sexual complaints are made and culprits dealt with.
Now it’s time to act.
In October, another committee was created to decide how to implement the recommendations of the Sexual Misconduct Committee. We hope they do so swiftly, but for the many victims of sexual misconduct on our campus — 58 last year, at least according to official statistics — it is already too late to address their grievances.
We fully support the Sexual Misconduct Committee’s recommendations, building on last year’s extensive report by the Women Faculty Forum. These include setting a clear definition of “sexual misconduct,” creating a confidential system of bringing complaints to a Universitywide committee and publicizing the Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources & Education Center more widely on campus.
But, while we respect the University’s desire to carry out a thorough review process before changing policies, this is an issue that directly affects students’ physical and psychological health, and we have already gone far too long without seeing change. As it stands, many students are hesitant to raise their concerns about inappropriate sexual encounters because the current system is too unwieldy; others wouldn’t even know where to begin.
If the University decided its public safety system needed serious review, for example, who would stand for a process that dragged on for a year or more, with the general safety of our campus at stake? Sexual misconduct dramatically affects the well-being of our campus, and students need the means to effectively air their grievances.
Important changes also need to be made in the area of sexual misconduct reporting. Last Thursday, a campuswide e-mail from Assistant Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins notified students of an “acquaintance rape” involving two undergraduates. Despite the bad news it bore, the message was a welcome step toward increasing awareness of sexual misconduct on campus, and we hope to continue to see such e-mails when sexual misconduct is reported in the future.
That said, even more needs to be done. The SHARE Center publishes statistics on sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. But these statistics are not well publicized. Furthermore, because the current system for reporting misconduct is flawed, we doubt the statistics that do exist give an accurate picture of behavior on campus. As a result, it is even less likely that victims will come forward or that potential offenders will be deterred.
This newspaper recommends several steps forward: The latest committee to be formed by the provost’s office should put the previous recommendations in place by the end of the semester, offering a simple and clear way to bring complaints to a Universitywide committee, and that committee should turn cases over to the police when necessary. All members of our community should be made aware of how exactly to raise a grievance, which would address one of the deepest faults of the current system.
We know this sounds like a tall order, maybe even a little naive. But given the grave reality of sexual assault on campus, how can we be satisfied with anything less?