THE WELLESLEY NEWS STAFF EDITORIAL: Preventing sexual assault must be a campus priority

Last week, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) shared her account of being raped during her undergraduate years. The story in The Tech renews the discussion of prioritizing sexual assault prevention on college campuses. Furthermore, a Feb. 3 article in the Boston Globe noted that sexual assault in the 12 largest colleges in the Boston area rose by around 40 percent between 2008 and 2012. According to MIT’s 2013 Annual Campus Security and Fire Safety Report, there were 12 recorded instances of sex offenses in 2012 at MIT. By comparison, Wellesley College reported 5 “Forcible Sex Offenses” in 2012. While Wellesley’s numbers seem lower—indicating a safer campus—this is in fact not necessarily the case. Because MIT’s undergraduate enrollment is roughly twice the enrollment of Wellesley, the percentage of students reporting a sexual assault is about the same: two for every 1,000 students.

Regardless of the numbers, Wellesley promotes itself as a safe space for people who have been survivors of sexual assault, but it still has room for improvement. Many courageous students have shared their stories this week in discussions of the “Sleepwalker” statue, both in advocating and protesting against it. Amid the controversy, preventing sexual assault on campus needs to remain a priority for Wellesley and for colleges nationwide.

Providing resources and training sessions for student leaders during student leader training at the beginning of the year is a great start, but there are more steps that can be taken to ensure that survivors of sexual assault are comfortable seeking help and resources. For example, the College could make it more widely known that students can report acts of sexual assault anonymously and  emphasize the support that Health Services provides. Additionally, communicating to students the “Wellesley College Resources For Student Survivors of Sexual Misconduct” can be found on the College’s website increases transparency between the College and the student body. The College should continue to provide other resources and forums for students to report acts of sexual misconduct and to get the help and resources they need.

The issue of addressing sexual assault, however, does not lie solely in providing resources to survivors. Students should also receive “bystander training,” which teaches them when and how to help a friend deal with instances of sexual assault. Bystander training can also aid in the prevention of interpersonal and sexual assaults because it teachies students how to safely intervene to prevent acts of violence. Most importantly, such training makes all students aware of secure and trustworthy places where they can report acts of sexual assault.

According to a 2007 study by the U.S. Department of Justice, only 12 percent of rapes of college women were reported. Across the nation, sexual assault is generally underreported, and better training for students would give students the tools to speak up about acts of violence. Specifically, providing bystander training to Wellesley students would create a stronger community and a safer campus.

In a campus-wide email, MIT’s president L. Rafael Reif stated that “we must all treat sexual assault as a fundamental violation of our values that will not be ‘normalized,’ glossed over or tolerated at MIT.” Wellesley must hold itself to these same standards.

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