‘80 schools are under the scanner in the US’

  • Ayesha Banerjee, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 10, 2014 13:41 IST

Denice Labertew is a US-based advocate in the field of violence against women. Currently serving as the director of advocacy services for the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault and as faculty in the Los Angeles Community College District, she speaks to HT Education about violence and need for change on campuses.

What is the biggest challenge today for a sexual assault victim? Is it reporting the crime or ensuring that the criminal is caught and penalised?
All of the above are an issue for victims. Victims are often fearful of reporting the crime to law enforcement or other systems, including their campuses. A great deal of victim blaming happens in society, so even if there are specific policies developed to encourage victim reporting, victims often are fearful that their behaviour will be judged or that someone won’t believe them, in particular if their assailant is someone who has a great deal of power

Is enough being done to curb campus violence/assaults?
Student survivors have come forward saying that their campuses have not been doing enough to address and prevent sexual assaults on campuses. They have been talking to legislators and the media about their concerns and have got a lot of attention. Many survivors feel as though schools have ignored their needs and brushed these matters under the carpet, in particular if the assailant is popular on campus. Currently, the US Department of Education is investigating approximately 80 schools for not effectively addressing the needs of victims on campus.

What’s at stake for well-known institutes?
There is a lot more at stake when institutes admit that they may need to create change on their campuses. They often count on tuition dollars and alumni dollars to ensure that they remain high profile, and when potential students and alumni begin to think that there is a problem they may not want to attend or contribute to their school. It is important for colleges to understand that when they do a better job of creating a supportive system for survivors there will be an increase in victim reporting. It means survivors will feel comfortable seeking help. The school can then really address the problem.

Do you think the Obama government’s ‘It’s on us’ campaign can help resolve the issue?
There is a lot that must happen in order to end sexual violence. The It’s on us campaign is a step, but certainly will not resolve the issue on its own.

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