January 31, 2006

NOW asks for sexual assault awareness

The University’s chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) will pressure the administration over the next week to form a sexual assault policy—separate from its sexual harassment policy—through its Friday By 5 campaign. The organizers of the weeklong event also hope to make the campus community aware (by Friday at 5 p.m.) of sexual assault on campus.

NOW’s involvement in the University’s sexual harassment procedure began last year with a letter to the administration. Their efforts cumulated in a petition, signed by over 700 University members, to create an unequivocal, separate sexual assault policy. While the University has taken steps to respond, the school still does not have a clear sexual assault policy that is separate from their sexual harassment policy.

According to Martina Munsters, deputy dean of students in the University, the administration has worked with NOW since winter of 2005 to create a brochure on sexual abuse and sexual assault and a sexual violence website.

“We will continue to do so going forward,” Munsters said, referring to cooperation with NOW.

Currently, the University defines sexual assault as a form of direct sexual harassment and resolves all sexual harassment cases informally. The policy includes advising, mediation, and a formal review from a disciplinary board.

“It really worries me that someone who committed sexual assault would be treated the same way as someone who cheated on a test and that someone who was the victim of an assault would have to deal with the same bureaucracy as someone who was unhappy with their roommate,” said third-year in the College Aya Lewkowicz, a member of NOW.

NOW endorses the creation of individual policies to outline procedures and explicitly define sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assault in accordance with Illinois state law’s definition of the terms.

Another goal of NOW is to help the University provide and publicize more options and resources for the survivors of sexual assault, abuse, or harassment. As well as requesting a zero tolerance statement for all sexual assault, NOW recommends providing first-response training for Housing staff and sensitivity training for sexual harassment, abuse, and assault.

With 60 percent of rapes occurring in the home of the victim or a close friend, someone close to the victim could often be the assaulter. NOW members believe that it is important for the University to have procedures to allow the victim support within the campus community.

Third-year in the College Michelle Rengarajan, the head of the campus chapter of NOW, said that “the University silently condones victim-blaming when it does not explicitly speak against it.”

She added that, to avoid sending the message that the victim has some control over the situation, the University should focus on survivor resources, rather than just prevention.

While Common Sense reported only one rape for 2004, rape statistics have typically been difficult to judge because attacks are underreported. This remains true on college campuses where the vast majority, over 84 percent, of rapes are acquaintance rapes and thus not reported, according to statistics released from the National Institute of Justice.

Dorothy Shope, a third-year in the College and member of NOW, described her motivation for participating in the campaign. According to Shope, a man attempted to assault her at a party. She said that others at the party did not take steps to stop him.

“[The campaign] is directed towards anyone who hasn’t been a victim of sexual assault because they could be in the future or they could see it happen. Everyone needs to learn to see and stop sexual assault,” Shope said.

Events for the next week include free hot drinks and information outside of Cobb on Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. From 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Vickie Sykes, director of RSVP, will lead a discussion entitled “What is Sexual Assault?” The discussion, and an accompanying free dinner, will take place in Stuart 101. The campaign will end with free T-shirts for supporters to wear on Friday.