Surviving sexual violence on campus

  • Ayesha Banerjee, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
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  • Updated: Jan 04, 2014 17:09 IST

Efforts are on to foster gender equality on campus.

Denise Labertew, an expert on gender issues and campus safety, is helping universities in the US look holistically at how they are responding to sexual violence, dating violence and stalking on college campuses.

The director of advocacy services and campus programme, California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Labertew has to support universities in their efforts to reach out to law enforcement officials. What is prioritised is the response of universities to survivors disclosing abuse, implementation of prevention (violence) programmes, and educating college communities on violence-related problems .

Most US college campuses have a law enforcement team in place and "we encourage  training on effective responses," says Labertew, who also serves as the head of the National Technical Assistance Provider for the Office on Violence Against Women on developing survivor centered responses to gender- based violence for universities and colleges across the US.

Non-profits (India has its NGOs), which have a different role than the police, are also trying to ensure that the police work with a local advocacy organisation to make sure the survivor's needs are met. When a survivor discloses abuse the police agencies call in an advocate. "That is to ensure the survivor  feels reassured that there is someone present there for her, with her," says Labertew.

US universities have an on-campus adjudication process through which a number of people examine the survivor and the abuser to decide whether or not there has been violation of school rules. A police investigation from the community law enforcement division is also likely to be carried out at the same time. "We also have laws that prevent schools from standing in the way of survivors going to report to the police," she adds.

In order to encourage students to report acts of abuse against them, universities are being encouraged to pay special attention to survivor needs - change classes or hostel rooms in case the alleged offender is present there. "The survivors at times say they need counselling and do not want to go through a police investigation  Our goal is to eliminate hesitance in reporting the abuse," says Labertew.

Controlling damage and minimising long-term impact from abuse is also a priority. Schools are encouraged to partner with local NGOs that have expertise in counselling specific to sexual assault and domestic violence. "We deal with the long-term impact of abuse (flashbacks of the incident, gynaecological problems, headaches) also as we do not want the survivor to drop out of school or have her career goals jeopardised. We attempt to look holistically at survivor needs to ensure there is least impact possible," she adds.

Laws to prevent gender discrimination include Title IX, a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972. The Office on Civil Rights enforces Title IX on college campuses. What it requires essentially is that universities create an environment in which everyone, regardless of their gender, can learn freely. The Office creates regulations for universities to respond to abuse. Those not following guidelines have to face sanctions, which might leave them unable to able to access federal dollars for scholarships and for other funding purposes.


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