Symposium Responds To Sexual Assault Statistics

Reports of sexual assault on Boston-area college campuses have increased considerably in recent years, based on federal statistics, according to a Boston Globe article published on Feb. 3.

In response to the upward trend of reported instances of forcible sex offenses throughout Boston-area colleges and to discuss impending legislation on enhanced efforts toward sexual assault prevention, the Office of the Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan hosted a college safety symposium on Feb. 27 titled Sexual Violence, Dating Abuse, and Stalking on Campus.

The symposium, along with Ryan, featured Director of the Office of First Year Experience Rev. Joseph P. Marchese, BCPD Chief and Director of Public Safety John King, Dean of Students Paul Chebator, and Setti Warren, Mayor of Newton and BC ’93. Also present were five other panelists representing student affairs offices from Boston College, MIT, and victims’ rights law firms.

“The symposium that we are conducting today is perfect timing,” Ryan said. “Many of you saw the article written last week in the Boston Globe where President Obama talked about what he called an epidemic of sexual assault-something that he described as an affront to basic decency-and we who do this type of work everyday know that it has become an epidemic, and none of us would say that our work is not needed.

“We wouldn’t say that the numbers are not increasing-that the numbers of reports and the numbers of actual incidents are both going up-and that decision by the president to create a task force in response to the issue is the first real opportunity to shine some light on this problem.”

The keynote address, delivered by Ryan, enumerated several statistical figures on increased collegiate occurrences of sexual assault.

As the 23rd most populated county in the U.S., Middlesex County is home to 25 colleges and universities.

Of the 22 largest colleges throughout the greater Boston area, the Globe reported that forcible sex offenses surged by 40 percent between 2008 and 2012-a statistic, the panelists discussed, that could reflect a breakdown in the obstacles victims face when deciding whether to report an instance of dating violence or sexual assault.

According to statistics presented by Colby Bruno, a featured panelist at the event and senior legal counsel at the Victim Rights Law Center, and Djuna Perkins, an attorney with more than 20 years of experience regarding Title VII and Title IX issues, approximately one in five women reports having been raped at college during her undergraduate career.

Reports also concluded that 7 percent of college males admitted to engaging in sexual violence, and 63 percent of that group admitted to having committed an offense more than once.

The symposium also focused on currently existing legislature on collegiate crime reporting-namely the Clery Act, which requires all colleges and universities to disclose crime on or near campuses-and recently approved revisions to that legislature that enhance efficiency and safety for victims of sexual violence.

The Clery Act, Perkins said, encompasses three main areas of procedure.

“The first is that it requires colleges and universities to report more crimes under the Clery Act than before,” she said. “It requires universities to adapt and distribute institutional policies, and it require colleges and universities to conduct certain disciplinary procedures.”

On March 7, 2013, Obama signed a bill that reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and within that bill is the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act. The SaVE act added the requirement of reporting crimes involving domestic violence and expanded hate crimes to include those based on gender identity, among other additional requirements. The bill became effective on March 7, 2014.

The symposium panelists were tasked with discussing the potential implications of the VAWA reauthorization and how college communities can better implement those policies on campus.

Ryan summed the symposium as needing to address three predominant facets of the legislation.

“[The first is] the challenges to the implementation beginning next week of the new campus safety act-and there are going to be challenges,” she said. “The second is how colleges and universities are going to achieve compliance with the regulations that are contained in the statute. And finally, how you impact the college culture to adapt to these changes.”

The original version of this article misspelled the name of Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan. It also misidentified Setti Warren, Mayor of Newton and BC ’93.

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Connor Farley was a copy editor and news editor for The Heights. You can probably find him at a Phish show.