May 2, 2006

Sex Assault Experts Advise Male Education

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Cornell should do more to prevent rape and sexual assault on campus, say local experts, and the first step is to target the population most likely to commit the crimes.

Almost all students accused of rape and sexual assault are male, according to Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant law ’88. Since 1992, only one female has been accused through the J.A.

“Cornell needs to have a full-time position for a male anti-violence educator,” said Eric Acree, Africana librarian, who currently volunteers to work with male students accused of rape, sexual assault or sexual abuse. “I agree 100 percent that rape education needs to be targeted at men. Rapes have always happened on this campus. Why wait for a situation like Duke to happen at Cornell?”

About four years ago, Acree volunteered to organize and train male colleagues to talk with male students who are accused of sexual offenses before the judicial administrator.

The program, created by the J.A., sends accused students to mandatory sessions with trained volunteers of the same sex to talk about the issues.

Reactions of accused male students “range anywhere from ‘damn, what did I do? And if I did it, I can’t believe I did’ to ‘I didn’t do anything wrong,'” Acree said.

Leon Lawrence, director of multicultural affairs at the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, has talked with about six accused male students. If there is any common thread, it seems to be alcohol, he said.

“If alcohol is involved there seems to be a lot of miscommunication, and thinking that ‘no’ doesn’t really mean ‘no,'” Lawrence said. “A lot of our conversations are about how to help them find ways to take better care of themselves and the people they’re with so it doesn’t happen again.”

Acree required one student accused of rape to develop a program to talk with his peers about sexual assault. He also assigns readings and has extensive conversations with the students.

“Some of the men are very ashamed and embarrassed,” Lawrence said. “There might have been one situation where initially, somebody was angry. But then after they thought about the whole thing, they weren’t … none of them ever said that they were wrongly accused.”

In the cases where proceedings are dropped, these conversations are a “last resort,” Acree said. “If we didn’t do this, nothing would be done. These guys would just be walking around.”

“The people that commit rapes by and large are men and it’s not effective for women to tell men not to rape,” said Prof. Andrea Parrot, chair of Cornell Advocates for Rape Education (CARE). “It’s not effective for a person from a disenfranchised group to tell the powerful group to give up that power.”

In August 2005, Harvard hired a “prevention specialist” in their Office of Sexual Assault Prevention whose job description focuses on developing and implementing prevention and outreach activities for undergraduate men.

CARE, an official university committee made up of faculty, students, staff and community members, hopes that Cornell will take notice and follow in Harvard’s footsteps.

“The biggest thing that’s lacking is a male educator doing work around masculinities and sexual assault with men,” said Nina Cummings, Gannett Health Center’s victim advocate. “That’s the next step in terms of changing the campus climate.”

However, at the moment, the position is “still in the talking phase,” Cummings said.

“It’s a really complicated issue because I know that colleges don’t want to be known as places where women are raped – which, in fact, they are,” said Toni Sunderland, counselor-advocate at the Advocacy Center, an Ithaca organization that offers support, advocacy and education about sexual assault. “It is very hard for them to get involved and to treat this is as a human rights issue that happens on their campuses.”

Archived article by Katy Bishop
Sun Senior Writer