Post Prompts Discussion Of Sexual Assault Resources
Published: Monday, October 7, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 7, 2013 00:10
Last week, a lengthy post on the Boston College Confessions Facebook page described three alleged sexual assaults on the BC campus. Although the student responsible came forward the night after the confession was posted and admitted that it was fake, post No. 7122 garnered considerable attention from BC students before it was taken down on Wednesday night.
In response to the student reaction, several undergraduates organized an event on Thursday night in Cushing 001 to discuss the issues of sexual assault and rape at BC, and to educate students about bystander awareness and other resources on campus. Chelsea Lennox, A&S ’14; Don Orr, A&S ’14; Ande Giancarlo, CSOM ’15; and Joey Palomba, A&S ’15, each wearing a bright red Bystander Intervention t-shirt, moderated the event.
Orr began by clarifying that the event was not intended as a forum for discussion or speculation about post 7122 or the poster in particular. “This is an ongoing investigation,” he said. “What we’re going to be talking about is the wider issue that is called into question: rape on college campuses, sexual assault on college campuses are very serious issues, and what we saw from that [post] is that students on this campus are deeply concerned about it. So we’d like to talk about what resources the students have available to them, what we can do to help prevent [assault] as students, and what you can do if you find yourself the victim.”
Giancarlo and Palomba proceeded to give the audience a presentation of the Bystander Intervention program, which is run through the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and trains students in ways to prevent sexual assaults from happening in social scenarios. Giancarlo listed four factors that generally influence bystander behaviors: recognition of the need to intervene; being asked to help; witnessing others role-modeling intervention behaviors; and the relative size of the group surrounding a questionable situation.
After playing a video clip that illustrated the stages leading up to a potential sexual assault—and opportunities during which bystanders could intervene—Giancarlo and Palomba spent the next few minutes discussing the issue of consent. A person is unable to consent to sexual acts, Palomba said, if they are under the legal age of consent, which is 16 in Massachusetts; if they are under the influence of any substance to the point of intoxication; if they are unconscious; or if they are coerced.
Giancarlo then pulled up a graph of sexual harassment acts on a scale of recognition versus frequency. Acts such as rape and unwanted physical contact, she said, are high on the recognition scale—people understand that they constitute sexual assault, but they happen relatively less often—whereas unwanted verbal attention and offensive or objectifying jokes happen more often but are not equally recognized as harassment. Those acts on the higher-frequency, lower-recognition end of the scale, they said, are where students can intervene. “We don’t expect you to step into a sexual assault by yourself and break people up, or get in some sort of fight,” Palomba said. “That’s not your job ... As members of this community, we hope that your job would be to step in when you can help, in everyday conversations … stopping to create this rape culture that we live in.”
Following the Bystander Intervention presentation, a panel of three administrators took the floor. Laurene Spiess, a sergeant with BCPD; Katie Dalton, the director of the WRC; and Ryan Mulderrig, a resident director for the Office of Residential Life, discussed the resources and options available to survivors of sexual assault after the fact.
Spiess gave a brief overview of BCPD. Within the 54-member department, she said, there are eight sexual assault investigators, including a full-service detective. “All of our officers are trained in sexual assaults,” Spiess said. “But then we have a team that is specially trained to handle sexual assaults—they go to initial 40-hour training to be an investigator, and then they do continual education and are trained with the Middlesex District Attorney’s office as well as the Suffolk District Attorney’s office.”
BCPD works closely with other departments on campus, including the Dean of Students Office, WRC, ResLife, Campus Ministry, and the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs when it comes to investigating reported cases of sexual assault and ensuring that the victim has access to help after the fact.
“The first thing we want to do is make sure they’re okay, and to be medically cleared,” Spiess said. “We would offer to take them to the hospital, to have a medical evaluation, but also if they chose, to have an evidence collection kit, and then we would start an investigation.”