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A Push To Cover Campus With Federal Statistics On Sexual Assault

Between O’Neill Library and Gasson Hall, signs calling attention to sexual assault statistics line the path. The statistics—provided by the White House—are part of a sexual assault awareness campaign at universities across the country. Brianna Beaumont, president and founder of React to Film at Boston College and CSOM ’16, said that the signs are up for the entire week with the expectation that the first day will cause a shock, but by the end of the week, a conversation will have started around them.

React to Film is a chapter of the national nonprofit and previews documentaries covering social concerns on campus, followed by a public “reaction”—like a demonstration or a talk—addressing the issue presented in the film one to two weeks later. In response to the growing number of investigations of sexual assault at universities across the nation, the student organization React to Film held a screening of the documentary The Hunting Ground on Oct. 19. The signs were their reaction.

“We don’t just want to bring an issue to light and then shut up again,” Beaumont said. “We want to bring it to light and keep the conversation flowing.”

The Hunting Ground talks about the schools that have been investigated as a result of violating Title IX, a federal statute that protects people from gender-based discrimination, including sexual harassment, in educational programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.

“There are campuses who have basically found people guilty for rape, but keep the person on campus for some other reason,” Beaumont said. “People are going up against universities through Title IX because they’re not providing a safe environment for students.”

“It’s not that they can’t talk about it, it’s just how do you start a conversation about sexual assault? [The signs] are a starting point.”

Summers Hammel, treasurer of React to Film and MCAS ’16, said that there are close to 170 universities that are now being investigated formally—BC was not one of them. After screening the film, React to Film posted signs on campus with statistics about sexual assault to keep conversation going. Beaumont noted that, though BC has done a lot of positive things for sexual assault on campus, it’s still an issue at BC because of the silence in reporting sexual assault.

Beaumont said that sexual assault is very underreported, citing the often repeated statistic that one in five women will be sexually assaulted during their time at a university. She explained that, though that’s the national average, even if BC were to vary slightly in their numbers there’s still a large disparity between the number of probable instances and the number of reports.

“You can push the statistics one way or another and they don’t shift much,” Beaumont said. “Does it seem like that many people are being expelled from our school compared to the rape statistics that are out there? No.”

Beaumont said that 42 percent of women who are raped don’t report it. One of the reasons for underreporting is the fear that the individual will be silenced, she said. She then spoke of her own experience with this as a sophomore at BC in the spring of 2014. She explained that after an incident where she was sexually assaulted, Beaumont went to a counselor at BC to talk about what had happened.

“The response that I got was, ‘Well, did you drink too much? Were you leading that person on up until the point that they raped you?’” Beaumont said. “It was sort of deflecting it back on me. Basically, like, ‘What fault did you have in this? What did you do wrong to make this happen?’”

Beaumont said that the questions were never reversed. She said that she left and University Counseling Services never scheduled another appointment. According to BC’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, students who are victims of sexual misconduct are encouraged to talk to a counselor to receive the support they need, so the University can respond appropriately.

“That was the end of the conversation,” she said. “I should never walk into a counseling office and have them question me about what I did to get sexually assaulted.”

Hammel noted that Beaumont’s experience touches on two facets of the problem. The first is that a high number of people who are sexually assaulted never report it in the first place. This is seen as a violation of Title IX when it results from people not feeling safe to the point where they can report an assault. The second facet is that the small number of people who do report it are rarely encouraged and supported to take action.

Hammel pointed out that this problem may not be the worst at BC, but it still affects individuals and, thus, stands as a flaw within the University. Beaumont said that the counselor she approached at BC was one of the first two people she ever told about her experience.

“After the conversation with this counselor, I completely shut up about it,” Beaumont said. “It just shuts you up immediately.”

Because React to Film is a national organization, other campuses across the country showed The Hunting Ground around the same time and are creating reactions now as well. Hammel explained that as a result, the screening is sparking a national dialogue with the hope of creating a ripple effect and sparking a larger movement.

Hammel said that the projects each group used as reactions varied throughout the United States. She said that BC’s chapter chose to present the statistics in order to catch people’s attention. Beaumont said that the shock-factor was a part of the reason for how they created the reaction on campus. By providing these statistics, React to Film wants to shed light on the magnitude of the problem and help promote change through open dialogue.

“It makes it easier to talk about because people don’t want to bring up the subject,” Beaumont said. “It’s not that they can’t talk about it, it’s just how do you start a conversation about sexual assault? [The signs] are a starting point.”

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor

November 12, 2015