Our Opinion: Task Force Proposes Future of Sexual Assault Prevention

editorial board

The Sexual Violence Prevention Visioning Task Force, convened last April by Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Claire Sterk and Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair, recently released a report detailing recommendations for sexual assault prevention at Emory, following the guidelines of a White House task force report aiming to protect students from sexual assault.

The Emory Task Force and its recommendations resulted in the Standing Committee for the Prevention of Sexual Violence, a governance entity approved by the University Senate on Oct. 28 that aims to be data-driven and to support comprehensive sexual assault programming, according to the report.

The report recommends that the Standing Committee conduct climate surveys among the student body beginning in Spring 2015 in order to gather data on the sources and effects of sexual violence on our campus. Instruments to collect this data will be both University-specific and used to compare data gathered by other colleges that are responding to the White House’s report. These findings will be widely publicized so that the community can appropriately engage in conversations on sexual violence prevention and response. The ultimate goal that the Task Force sets for the Standing Committee is to increase the number of students coming forth to report sexual assault, relative to the number of sexual assaults that occur.

We commend the Task Force for its relatively quick release of recommendations. Further, the Task Force cooperated with a representative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and several members of the Rollins School of Public Health, and the Task Force asserts that sexual assault is a public health issue. Not only does sexual assault jeopardize the mental health of the survivor, but it is also harmful to the entire community in which the assault occurs, the report asserts.

The Task Force and its framing of sexual assault as a threat to public health challenges the belief that sexual assault is a wholly private matter. It is important that the community be made aware of the prevalence of sexual assault on campus in order for us to be able to take the proper measures to combat against it.

We hope this committee will improve sexual assault prevention programming in our community. While the guidelines and details for the function of this committee as listed in the report are somewhat vague — most of the report lacks concrete recommendations and action-steps — we understand that the Task Force is meant to be a visioning body for the University. We sincerely hope that the recommendations outlined in the report will become materialized through concrete action and programming. Additionally, we are eager to see how the Interfraternity Council (IFC) uses this report.

We applaud the concrete recommendations for enhancing existing programming with further fiscal resources and personnel, where the report specifically mentions existing programs that address sexual assault and prevention like Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA), The Talk, online module Haven and Creating Emory. While all students entering college are now exposed to sexual assault prevention awareness through programs like Creating Emory and Haven, we are wary of the engagement of students with these programs during orientation week, especially as many first-years report inattention and disengagement during the sessions. Nevertheless, we believe that the efforts put forth by these programs are still important to educate first-years on the realities of sexual assault and how they can play a part to prevent this systemic issue. For programs like The Talk, which attempts to engage the Greek community in discussion of healthy sexuality, we hope that the Committee explores ways to increase student interaction and engagement, especially with topics more difficult to discuss like sexual violence. In addition, we ​commend the recommendations of extending sexual violence prevention programming throughout each student’s time at Emory.

An email sent by the Office of Provost entitled “Courageous Inquiry 1.0” discussed President James W. Wagner’s commitment to Emory’s Vision Statement, stating that “during the presidency of James Wagner, Emory has embraced a strategic vision that aspires to nothing short of greatness.” While there is considerable potential strength within this University Vision Statement and its promulgation, Wagner and other members of the Emory administration should speak out directly against sexual assault, exhibiting commitment to its prevention. This is the defining issue of our time at the University right now, and it is imperative for our President to communicate on sexual assault prevention in order to uphold our own standards as an “inquiry-driven, ethically engaged and diverse community.” Let us all — committees, administrators, students, staff, faculty and Presidents — stand with survivors of sexual assault and against these intolerable acts. Let us all show members of our community who have been indirectly and/or directly impacted by such heinous acts that they are not alone.