October 22, 2012

Students Propose Sexual Assault Prevention Center at Cornell

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As the Cornell community seeks to address issues surrounding sexual assault, one possible solution has emerged: creating a new, physical center for sexual assault prevention. Addressing a group of about 40 people, students and administrators discussed this and other ideas at a meeting of the Sexual Violence Prevention Working Group Monday.

A center devoted to sexual assault prevention — similar in function to, but organizationally separate from, the existing Women’s Resource Center — would centralize support services for survivors, according to meeting attendees.

Rachael Blumenthal ’13, a member of the board for the WRC, said a stand-alone center would provide a single point of contact for reporting cases of assault or rape, which she said could help to alleviate some of the burden of that process.

“Not very many [victims] would be … willing to go straight to the Judicial Administrator,” Blumenthal said. “If they had someone to talk to, and then have the person sit with them [at a meeting with the J.A.] and make them feel supported, the survivor is much more likely to take [judicial] action.”

Laura Weiss, director of the WRC, agreed, saying that the center would be valuable for centralizing the resources that Cornell already has in place for survivors of sexual assault. Still, she cautioned that centralizing those resources into a single point of access could limit victims’ options in seeking help.

“The fact that we are decentralized now … there are some benefits about that. For example, there are many access points for survivors to get whatever it is they need. That would be one of the potential costs, because people would either use [the center] or they would not,” Weiss said.

Shuangyi Hou ’13, president of the Every1 Campaign, a student group that promotes sexual assault awareness, supported the idea of a sexual assault center but, like Weiss, also worried that certain people could be discouraged from using the center if it became centralized.

“People might be less willing to use the center if by entering that space they might potentially be identifying themselves as survivors,” Hou said.

While the costs and benefits of the stand-alone center were not determined, participants agreed that having a separate center for dealing with sexual assault would show that the issue is a priority for the University.

“I think that having something that’s stand-alone would really show that Cornell prioritizes this issue — and that, I think, would be valuable to the community,” Weiss said.

Blumenthal added that in addition to showing Cornell’s existing community that the issue is prioritized, creating the center would show future incoming students that the University is serious about providing support of survivors of sexual assault.

“For new students, [the existence of the center] could shape the kind of people who choose to come here. Hopefully, for those that come, it will speak to their own beliefs,” Blumenthal said.

However, even in preliminary discussion, some attendees said there are many questions to be addressed before such a center can be implemented.

During the meeting, Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant J.D. ’88 questioned how a stand-alone center would provide resources that differ from existing University support.

“There seem to be benefits to the idea, but before such an idea can be fully endorsed, we need to better understand how it would meet the goals in better ways than what can be accomplished without a center. I would hate for Cornell to throw money at at issue without knowing that the idea would help,” Grant said in an email to The Sun Monday night.

Several other universities have separate physical centers to handle issues surrounding sexual assault. For instance, the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at Harvard University and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Center at Boston University offer 24-hour hotlines and staff members dedicated specifically to assisting victims.

“Having a space where someone can go, with a person who is trained in this issue would offer [sexual assault survivors] a sense of safety and validate their experience and support them, to me, is one of the most immediate needs of helping survivors,” Blumenthal said.

Original Author: Jinjoo Lee