August 20, 2019 | 81° F

RUPD, student offices host town hall to discuss state of campus sexual assault

Photo by Ruoxuan Yang |

Staff members from Rutgers Student Life and the Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance, among other offices, sit to discuss the state of sexual violence at the town hall meeting titled “RU Talking About Sexual Violence?” in the Multipurpose Room Wednesday evening at the Busch Campus Center.

The odds of being attacked by a shark are one in 3,740,067, while a woman's odds of being sexually assaulted are one in six.

This was just one of the dozens of student responses to the "iSPEAK" social media campaign that Sarah McMahon read aloud at yesterday evening's town hall meeting, "RU Talking About Sexual Violence on Campus?"

The town hall meeting took place in the Multipurpose Room of the Busch Campus Center. The panel, which included a member of the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD) and directors of key offices on campus, discussed what is being done about sexual violence on campus before opening up to questions from the audience.

Sarah McMahon, associate director on the Center on Violence Against Women and Children, spoke about the "iSPEAK" online campus climate survey. The "iSPEAK" social media campaign was led in conjunction with Residence Life to ask students why combating sexual violence is important to them.

Sexual violence on college campuses is not new, she said, but its attention in the media has presented an opportunity to create a dialogue and foster change.

Rutgers is unusual in that the University began developing programs against sexual violence in 1991, and has been continuing work since then, she said. Last fall, "iSPEAK" was open to all Rutgers students.

A total of 11,738 students completed the survey, which is a 28 percent response rate, she said. The results of the survey will shed light on student experiences with sexual violence, the perception of how the University responds to sexual violence and student willingness to intervene. The results will be available to Rutgers students by this summer. 

"We have also conducted a number of focus groups which include a number of different groups on campus," she said. "We met with the LGBT community, members of the cultural centers, fraternity and sorority members, athletes, members of student government and more."

Kenneth Cop, executive director of Police Service and RUPD Chief of Police, explained what happens on the legal side of sexual violence and how the RUPD responds to cases. 

Overall, the RUPD is a criminal investigative arm of the University for sexual assault, he said, but most importantly provides support for the victims. The RUPD deals with sexual assault victims at a critical time, and the moment is emotional for both the victim and the officer.

"I remember transporting a victim and thinking 'Wow, what do I say?'" he said. "There's no icebreaker for that conversation ... We have to ask questions about what happened and have the victim relive that moment. The last thing a victim wants to hear is how their clothes are now evidence and to change into something else."

Collaboration begins with a communal approach in the department and an effort by officers to make the victim feel safer, Cop said. Students get in touch with RUPD in a number of ways, whether its an anonymous call to report an incident or coming from the hospital.

"The more we are seen as approachable, the more information comes forward," he said. "We are happy to see a rise in reporting, because that means we have more people coming forward. We know that sexual assault is underreported not only at Rutgers, but across the country."

In terms of sexual assault investigations, Cop said the RUPD takes initial reports, ensures victims receive the services and support they need, establishes a crime scene and works with the prosecutor's office. 

Ruth Anne Koenick, director of the Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance, said student activism is the driving force behind social change with sexual violence. When Koenick was a student in the 1970s, she said students led change on campuses across the U.S., and this continues to be the case.

The Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance has a crisis intervention hotline, which means someone is on call every hour of the day, she said. The office also provides counseling and equips survivors of sexual violence with important information to make decisions with.

"If they want to go to the police, we'll go with them ... If they want to file charges with the Internal Code of Student Conduct, we'll help them through that," she said. "We will do whatever they need."

Prevention work is equally as important as the response to sexual violence, Koenick said. This ultimate goal of preventing sexual violence is being met with bystander intervention programs and comprehensive training. 

"What I want is to be unemployed," she said. "Unemployed because there is no more (sexual violence on campus)."

Avalon Zoppo

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