March 11, 2012

Cornell Cites Outreach as Cause of Surge in Sexual Assault Cases

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On Friday, the Office of the Judicial Administrator heard its 11th case of sexual assault this year — setting the record for the most cases of sexual assault ever referred to the J.A. in one year. University officials said they believe improvements in education on assaults, rather than an increase in crime, is responsible for the uptick in referrals.But despite  the significant increase in the number of reported sexual assaults, Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant J.D. ’88 said that this does not necessarily equate to a rise in violent crime on campus.“I don’t think that there are necessarily more sexual assaults, but victims are reporting them more often,” said Grant. “Education leads to more referrals.”Several administrators, faculty members, police and students involved with responding to cases of sexual assault at Cornell echoed Grant’s response.“Statistically speaking, it is more likely that we as a team have created an environment that supports victims of sexual assault enough that more people feel comfortable coming forward and reporting,” said Kathy Zoner, chief of the Cornell University Police Department.According to Grant, Gannett Health Services, the Women’s Resource Center and various student groups have led educational initiatives that she said has encouraged survivors to reach out to resources about their options and rights following an assault.Vera Kutsenko ’13, president of Students Against Violence and Abuse — a student organization that aims to promote awareness about violence and abuse — said that education is crucial to increasing the number of reported violent crimes, largely because victims of such crimes are often too intimidated to report them.“A lot of the time, the victim may not even report the case because they are afraid of what may happen following through with it and having to re-tell what has happened to them over and over again,” Kutsenko said in an email. “Most abuse cases are a hard matter to report and to follow through with for both the victim and the police.”In addition to promoting education on sexual violence, University groups have also expanded preventative measures against sexual violence in recent years.Wingman 101, a discussion-based volunteer program for male students established by Gannett in 2008, provides men with the skills needed to intervene and stop other men from committing sexual assault, according to Nina Cummings M.S. ’92, University victim advocate at Gannett.“A good wing man is someone who watches out for you and steps in if you are about to make a big mistake,” she said.Cummings said the program has been particularly successful in engaging athletes and new members of fraternities.The Panhellenic Council has also supported campaigns that raise student awareness about sexual assault such as SHAPE, Every1 and Consent-Ed — a student group that promotes bystander intervention and sexual assault prevention through interactive workshops on campus — according to Margo Cohen Ristorucci ’13, vice president of judicial affairs and standards for the Panhellenic Council, who is a Sun news writer.“This year, Panhellenic encouraged all chapters to schedule a Consent-Ed workshop for their new members, and we have received enthusiastic feedback about the discussions Consent-Ed inspired,” Cohen Ristorucci said.Still, some students said that there is progress to be made in the reporting and handling cases of sexual assaults on campus.“Freshmen tend to be an easy target for sexual assault because they don’t know [about] many resources, or some even believe [sexual assault] is a common thing in college life,” said Narda Terrones ’14, incoming Student Assembly women’s issues liaison at-large. One of Terrones’ post-election goals is to create a mandatory sexual assault workshop during Orientation Week, The Sun reported on Thursday.“Although I am glad people are coming forward and reporting their occurrences, I believe it is more important to focus on the unreported cases now,” Terrones said.

Original Author: Danielle Sochaczevski

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