Colleges are mishandling reports of sexual assault on campus in much the same way that the U.S. military mishandled a epidemic of sexual assault in the ranks of the armed forces, said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who sponsored a bill to change the way the military prosecutes sexual assault cases.
“The problem is similar, you have an institutional bias, you have an institution that’s holding all the cards, that gets to decide what cases are handled … and in the military, it’s very much a closed system,” Gillibrand said at a conference on campus sexxual assualt held at Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan Monday .
“A lot of the people who are deciding these cases are not trained, they don’t know anything about the crime itself, or rules of evidence in a college setting,” said Gillibrand, who is co-sponsoring the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. The law would provide more support to victims and require campuses to be more transparent in reporting incidents.
One in five women are assaulted in college, according to the National Institute of Justice.
“Sexual assault is a crime, it needs to be treated as a crime, not as, this is what boys will do,” said panelist Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
“The ideal is that every survivor would feel comfortable going to the police if she chose to,” Gillibrand said. Police departments need to train officers to talk to victims, “ask the right questions at the right time” and not “pressure the survivor.”
Yoseli Castillo Fuertes, who teaches at Metropolitan High School in the Bronx, said she speaks to her students about how to prevent sexual assault. “It’s more of consent, are you conscious of yourself and your surroundings” Fuertes said, “Just because you were in a dark alley, that doesn’t mean if something happens to you that’s your fault, but you have to report that it happened to you,” Fuertes said.