January 22, 2013

EDITORIAL: Maintaining Momentum on Addressing Sexual Assaults

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In September alone, at least four sexual attacks were reported on or near Cornell’s campus. While the issue of sexual assaults dominated social discourse on campus this fall, the incidents that sparked the dialogue are becoming an increasingly distant memory. In addition, the revelation that one of the reported assaults was false makes it easier for some to forget that sexual assault remains an issue. Upon our return from a long academic break, it is crucial that the Cornell community not lose momentum in its efforts to address sexual assaults on our campus.

A single false report should be considered an anomaly. While exact figures are elusive, most national studies place the percentage of “unfounded” sexual assault allegations in the single digits. The revelation of a false allegation, although a rarity, is nevertheless a serious detriment to a community that has fought so avidly to combat the problem of sexual assaults. But we cannot let it paralyze us. Neither a dearth of new reports over the last four months nor the stain of a false report mitigate the gravity of this issue. The Cornell Police Department, the University and the student body must not allow the incident of a false allegation to overshadow the need to take action against sexual violence against women on our and other college campuses.

In response to concerns from student activists, the University has initiated several reforms this year, including bolstering late-night safety by upping patrols, sending Cornellians weekly emails with tips for self-defense and re-assigning three Cornell police officers to exclusively investigate reports of sexual assault. Additionally, Cornell will begin incorporating sexual assault prevention training into orientation week programming for incoming freshmen.

While these actions on the part of the University are welcome steps, we feel that the administration has not yet adequately considered student protesters’ September demands to extend similar educational initiatives to administrators, faculty, staff and older students. While targeting new students for this training is an significant effort, it will not be sufficient if we are to accomplish a more complete cultural transformation.

We can do more.

As a result of the high volume and concentration of the reports, we became witness to some of the most passionate displays of student activism to occur in recent years. Students have successfully spread sexual assault awareness, but concrete reform must follow. As we embark on a new semester this week, we ought not begin with a clean slate. The efforts of student groups and leaders this past fall showed tremendous dedication to the cause: The sit-ins they staged in front of Day Hall drew impressive crowds and myriad focus groups were formed to discuss the underlying institutional weaknesses that enable rape to occur.

Although sexual violence may never be completely eradicated in our community, the administration, the police and the student body can diminish its persistence by transforming dialogue into reality. We exhort the University to improve the safety and well-being of its constituents through visible and measurable action, and we encourage the students of Cornell to continue to demand the same.