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Student group campaigns for stricter responses to sexual assault

by Jackie Tempera / Beacon Staff • March 14, 2013

In response to a Facebook group and email campaign advocating for sexual assault awareness at Emerson, administrators said they will work to create a dialogue for sexual assault victims and their advocates on campus.

On Feb. 27, two Emerson students created “Emerson Students Stepping Up Against Sexual Assault,” a Facebook group promoting open discussion about on and off-campus assaults. The group currently has 217 members.  

Both creators—whose names the Beacon is withholding— said their own experiences with sexual assault prompted the idea for the group. 

Shortly before this, another Facebook profile called Emerson Confessional was created. The page’s 1,010 “friends” send often-personal messages to an unknown administrator who posts them anonymously. Some confessions concern personal accounts of sexual assault and rape. 

“After I saw these posts, I wanted to work to make a difference on campus,” said one of the creators of Emerson Students Stepping Up Against Sexual Assault. “I took these problems and obviously took the reins that and made the group more policy and activism oriented.”

On March 5, members began an email campaign, asking Pelton, Dean of Students Ronald Ludman, and Assistant Dean of Students Sharon Duffy to take larger steps in protecting Emerson students against violent crimes. 

Both creators said they want to encourage victims to wait to report any assaults until they are emotionally ready. Emerson College Police officers and administrators agreed with this 

On March 4, Pelton sent an email to Emerson students, faculty, and staff outlining the college’s strong stance against sexual assault. 

“While student privacy concerns and legal obligations prevent the College from making public the specific details of sexual assault investigations, every reported incident is treated seriously through our investigatory and judicial systems,” said Pelton in the email. 

Emerson’s policy for victims of rape and sexual assault, according to Ludman, is to have college administrators investigate the allegations, and provide the student with counsel and support. Then, a plan is developed by the administrator and the student that best fits the needs of the victim, he said. 

Students can report crimes to any member of the Emerson staff. That staff member is then encouraged, but not required,  to refer the incident to Emerson’s Sexual Assault Team, which consists of Ludman, human resource's Title IX coordinator—who ensures the college doesn’t violate gender discrimination laws—the general counsel, and representatives from the Emerson College Police Department (ECPD), counseling, health and wellness, housing and residence life, said an outline on the Emerson website. 

Victims who wish to file a police report can talk to the ECPD, said Ludman. 

ECPD Chief Robert Smith said students who file a police report will speak to the Officer-in-Charge of the shift to begin a preliminary investigation, starting with a brief interview, concerning where and when the assault took place.

Students who want to pursue criminal investigations will be put in contact with the police department in the area where the incident occurred, he said.

According to Emerson’s most recent Clery Act Report—an annual account of crime on or near campus—one forcible sexual offense was reported in 2013. There was also one case reported in 2012. 

When a student does not report sexual assault right away, though, it can affect investigations, according to Ludman. 

“But from a communication point of view, while we want to be respectful of students rights and survivors rights the further removed you get from the incident it may impact the process to the investigation of the process and negatively affect the process,” Ludman said. 

Smith said he respects the rights of students who don’t want to report their assaults, but he confirmed that staying silent can undermine police inquiries. 

“I would be remiss if I did not point out, that a survivor’s choice not to report the assault shortly after it occurs may impair law enforcement’s ability to obtain evidence of the crime that could be used for investigative purposes and subsequent criminal prosecution,” he said. 

Pelton said he received 12 emails from the group’s campaign in total, and is taking the issue very seriously.  

“Ron Ludman and I have responded personally to all of the emails we’ve received, and I am pleased that we are shining a bright light on a very serious issue,” he said. 

Pelton said he hopes to organize a community discussion on the topic, but no specific plans have been made yet. 

“This is not an administrative issue, this is a community issue and by that, I mean that the entire community must take this seriously, and take action to change behavior,” he said. 

Lori Beth Way, an assistant to Pelton and American Council on Education (ACE) fellow at Emerson, will work on a review of Emerson’s sexual assault
programs, according to Pelton. 

Way said she received a $471,529 grant from the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women while she was at California State University, Chico to reduce and respond to sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking, according to a 2010 Chico Academic Affairs Update. 

Way said she has not officially reviewed Emerson’s policies yet, but highlighted the importance of following the wishes of victims.

“There is a certain amount of power being taken from them,” she said. “They lost control of their body. Our job is to empower them to make the choice that they want.”