Julia Sasso is a student at NYU.
Students and faculty members have been organizing for the creation of a 24 hour Rape Crisis Center on campus. They claim that the current 24 hour private hotline does not do enough for students who have been victimized and that a discussion of sexual assault should first of all be mandatory, and secondly that disciplinary procedures could do more to assist those who have been victimized. The creation of such a center would both provide services for those who have experienced sexual assault as well as provide educational resources regarding consent and safe sexual practices.
NYU’s defines sexual assault broadly as “a variety of experiences a person may have, including unwanted sexual touching, non consensual oral or anal sex, or rape.” The issue of sexual assault on campus is largely addressed during the welcome week “Reality Show,” a Tisch School of the Arts production on the topics of drug abuse, sexual assault, queer and sexuality questioning, eating disorders and homesickness which incoming freshmen are obligated to attend. When one considers that National statistics regarding rape on college campuses indicate that 20-25 % of women are raped during their college years (and 10% of adult rape victims are male) it becomes obvious that is an issue which concerns every student on campus. Despite the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses throughout the United States, the same data indicates that less than 5% of completed or attempted rapes experienced by college students were reported to law enforcement officials. While NYU has one of the more progressive stances on sexual assault, students argue that the disciplinary procedure must be changed and that sexual assault should be discussed with students independently of other issues.
NYU has a student intern at the Student Health Centre whose responsibility is to educate NYU students on sexual assault and run awareness campaigns. In addition, the Wellness Exchange offers a 24-hour anonymous hotline that could place an individual in contact with a professional who would be more capable of offering tangible assistance as well as a Crisis Response Counselor who could accompany the survivor to the hospital for a medical examination. The Counseling and Wellness Services also has mental health professionals on-call at all hours who are able to meet with individuals to discuss their medical, mental health, and legal/judicial options. On the other hand, SAFER faults NYU with referring a survivor to the New York City police system. “Sure, they provide an advocate from the security services at NYU to help the survivor through the legal system. But NYU doesn’t put much effort into encouraging reporting within their own disciplinary system. Basically, the policy reads, “please report, there will be ONE investigator, each person gets to give their “side,” and the investigator will take “the appropriate actions.” For a policy that is so extraordinary at primary prevention and resource dissemination, they come up extremely short in disciplinary action.” This is particularly worrisome if one considers the low incidence of reporting sexual assault on campuses across the country.
The lack of a Rape Crisis Center also affects the R.A’s on staff, who would stand to benefit from the training offered by such a resource in their own lives and the lives of those they are responsible for. Currently R.A. training includes a section called “Behind Closed Doors” where new RA’s respond to scenarios acted out by older RA’s. Scenarios include parties, home-sickness, roommate conflicts and sexual assault. An R.A. that I interviewed I claimed that “it is problematic that this training is lumped in with all the other possibilities that RA’s could be asked to respond to, especially as there is no trigger warning when it comes to the more serious scenarios of anorexia, bulimia, suicidal ideation and rape and sexual assault.” In any case, the training itself was seen as satisfying as it covered how RA’s should be careful with regards to touch, try as much as possible to allow for the resident, who may be a survivor, to reclaim control of their options and body and also offer an RA of another gender, if the resident preferred. The RA I spoke to expressed doubt regarding NYU’s policy of referral to a chain of command of supervisors who would determine the way events would unfold from there. “We were not allowed to assure the resident of confidentiality from the NYU administration. I feel strongly that a rape crisis center is necessary at NYU because there is a host of problems with the way RA’s are told to respond to sexual assault. If NYU had a RCC, RA’s would be told to merely default to the RCC and perhaps walk the resident over immediately once they were notified of someone’s experience.” Having a Rape Crisis center would allow a more direct response that would challenge the inefficient, indirect, many channeled response that exists in place today. It would also reduce the involvement of the RA who despite the meager training provided is nowhere near as qualified as a professional to handle such matters. In addition, a RCC would also help residents living off campus with no RAs and residents who mistrusted or felt uncomfortable with their RA. The addition of a Rape Crisis Center is vital for an academic institution because there exists such a high discrepancy between the incidence of sexual assault and the reporting of these incidents. NYU must create a crisis center on campus, as well as ensure that this center be accessible, rather than the current burden placed on survivors to navigate through general student health services and city crisis centers.