Rutgers urges students to take sexual assault survey


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Photo by Michelle Klejmont |

Photo Illustration | The White House task force reports an estimated one in five women are sexually assaulted in college.


White House’s United States Department of Justice recently asked Rutgers’ Center on Violence Against Women and Children to issue a climate survey regarding cases of sexual assaults that occur on college campuses. 

The Department of Justice task force has put together a survey that aims to show how common campus assault is, and how students perceive sexual violence. The survey is part of the iSPEAK Project on campus.

Sarah McMahon, the acting co-director of VAWC, is currently leading the survey. 

“We named it iSPEAK because it gives students a voice that they may not have had before,” said McMahon, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work. 

VAWC is a part of the Rutgers School of Social Work. Unlike any other office in the country, the organization conducts a great deal of research on the topic of sexual violence. 

Kate Stepleton, coordinator of the iSPEAK project at VAWC, said Rutgers has a long tradition of being an exemplary research facility, especially regarding sexual violence. 

“It was only appropriate that Rutgers should be chosen to spearhead the survey,” said Stepleton, a doctoral student at Rutgers.

The survey hopes to gain a better understanding of sexual assault on campus. Stepleton said VAWC hopes to understand the attitudes of students toward gender and sexual violence and students’ readiness to intervene in cases of sexual violence.

VAWC also examines why students do and do not use the resources available on campus. 

The survey will also allow Rutgers to understand how many attacks actually occur on campus.

Laura Luciano, assistant director at the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance, said survivors of sexual violence often do not speak out.

“We know about survivors who come into our office and those who go to the police,” she said. “The survey hopes to illuminate a more accurate number of those who have been assaulted.”

McMahon explained that one in five women are sexually assaulted, and she doesn’t think the survey will yield any different results.

“I am proud to say that the survey has gained very positive support from the Rutgers-New Brunswick administration,” she said. “The survey is expected to positively affect campus assault response.”

Rutgers is the only school to take part in the Campus Climate Survey. 

“VAWC is a well-known and respected sexual violence program,” Luciano said. “It’s the only one like it. I think that’s why Rutgers was chosen to participate in the survey.”

Too often in the media, universities are negatively highlighted for their poor response to sexual assault and violence. 

“Where some schools are missing appropriate response programs to issues of sexual violence, some schools are actually doing a good job,” Luciano said. 

She explained people only hear about universities that have treated sexual assault survivors poorly. 

“Oftentimes, survivors are forced into speaking out when a great injustice has been given to them after their attack,” she said. “Those are the stories you are hearing about, not the schools [that] are actually doing a good job,” she said.

In fact, Rutgers has a very effective response program to sexual assault and violence. VAWC is a one-of-a-kind office that conducts a lot of research on the subject of sexual violence.

VPVA has reached national recognition, Stepleton said.

“They really are a legend in the field of campus sexual assault,” she said.

Rutgers has effective responses and resources, Luciano said, and it is time for schools that care about their students and are doing a good job, to be recognized. 

McMahon hopes to make some changes to the survey from the Department of Justice task force to make it more accessible to students and yield a better understanding of campus assault. 

The survey will illustrate how students perceive assault and will produce accurate results regarding how many assaults do actually take place on campus.

It will be available online from Oct. 27 through Nov. 5. 

A previous version of this article misquoted McMahon. She did not say: “I urge a lot of people to take it so Rutgers can gain more insight to appropriately make changes to the way our university responds to these violent attacks."


Jillian Pastor

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