Massachusetts schools respond to the SaVE Act

{Nicole Marti]/

by Shaina Mishkin, Daniel Rodriguez, Liz Strzepa, Elizabeth Geffre, Colin Trabucco

When the Violence Against Women Act was signed back into law last March, the bill came bundled with the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, known as the Campus SaVE Act. Introduced by U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), the act changes the way schools report crime statistics and refines the ways colleges must respond to sexual violence.

In order to comply with a new federal law, officials at Amherst College and UMass Amherst say the two schools are making progress in revising the ways they handle sexual assault at their respective campuses.

“We will be working diligently to ensure compliance with SaVE by its October 2014 effective date as part of our overall continued evaluation of how to best prevent sexual and intimate partner violence and globally support those members of our community affected by these serious crimes,” said Laurie Frankel, Amherst College’s Title IX Coordinator.

 Colleges and universities across the state and the country are scrambling to comply with the new law.

 “Moving forward it is incumbent upon schools, law enforcement and all stakeholders to ensure that victims of sexual violence have the support they need to receive justice and that all students can feel protected on campus from these terrible crimes,” said Sen. Casey in a statement to Amherst Wire.

 Amherst College made national headlines in 2012 after former student Angie Epifano published an op-ed piece accusing the school of failing to adequately respond to her sexual assault complaint. Epifano and an anonymous co-complaintant recently filed a federal complaint alleging violations of the federal Clery Act and Title IX.

 Epifano said the act will hold schools accountable to “a broader range of sexual assault definitions and things they have to do in order to maintain safety for students on campus.”

 “The Campus SaVE Act is a really groundbreaking legislative act,” said Epifano,

According to the American Council on Education, by March 7, 2014, colleges that receive federal funding will need to address campus sexual assault by the following: informing the community of their student rights, creating ongoing educational awareness campaigns and reporting incidents of dating violence, stalking and domestic violence in the year-end safety report.

 Mia Ferguson, one of 12 students who filed a Clery complaint against Swarthmore College last April, says the SaVE Act is just a small step in the direction to fix what she considers to be a national problem on college campuses.

“SaVE responds to a basic best practice: educate your student population,” said Ferguson.

 Ferguson said schools need to have a clear-cut method of addressing the mental trauma suffered by survivors of sexual assault. Though, she added, schools are not there yet.

Frankel said Amherst College has made significant changes to its First Year Orientation program in the areas of consent and bystander intervention training. Frankel says Amherst will be developing additional programming, for both students and staff, that will be directed at increasing awareness around the issues of intimate partner violence and stalking, how to reduce the risk of this dangerous behavior, and how to support survivors.

 Epifano said she is hopeful but wary of the impact the legislation will have on college campuses.

“There’s either going to be a time bomb and everything explodes, or the day is going to pass and it’s going to be like nothing has happened,” said Epifano. “It’s going to be up to students and advocates to demand action on the part of the government.”

With the March deadline approaching, universities across the state are at various stages of refining their sexual assault policies.

University of Massachusetts Amherst

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, administrators have implemented the [email protected] initiative, intended to raise awareness of sexual violence and to make resources available to the UMass community.

 “[email protected] is addressing sexual assault in a proactive and multifaceted way that goes far beyond simple compliance with Title IX, Campus SaVE, and the Clery Act,” said Lynn Phillips, a UMass Amherst Communication professor who specializes in topics of gender, race, class and sexuality.

“This includes taking a critical look at our reporting mechanisms and revising them to remove any barriers to reporting.”

 Phillips, who is also on the [email protected] committee, said the recent changes at UMass include training all Residence Life staff, including RAs, about how to support and intervene on behalf of others.

 The staff must now inform their residents about their responsibilities and starting this summer, all incoming UMass students are required to receive training on how to respond as a bystander to sexual assault.

 The sexual assault policy for the university can be found in the Code of Student Conduct. In terms of accessibility, the policy is difficult to find and navigate and there is no centralized location for all information. Definitions of assault, victims’ rights, and outlines of the UMass judicial process are scattered throughout the Code of Student Conduct.

 Tufts University

 Tufts University has plans to change their sexual assault policy, but the university’s current policy already includes a number of the requirements of the SaVE Act, according to Kimberly Thurler, director of public relations .

 “Tufts is looking to expand their definition of sexual misconduct to include domestic violence to meet the requirements of the SaVE Act,” said Thurler.

The university’s current sexual assault policy clearly states where students who have been sexually assaulted can report the assault and access resources. Thorough definitions are provided for terms denoting sexual violence and the policy clearly states that the Dean’s Office will “arrange for safe housing, stay-away requests, schedule changes and provide academic support to students.” The policy is easily accessible and informative, but lacks the procedures that the students involved in reporting undergo.

Emerson College

 In October, a group of students at Emerson College filed a complaint against the institution alleging Title IX and Clery Act violations during the investigations of sexual assault.

 Emerson College’s sexual assault policy is not clearly stated on the university’s website. Emerson does have a page dedicated to sexual assault information – filled with a list of numbers and resources, but there is no clear policy. Emerson refers to a brochure which includes the definition of consent, some statistics, resources and a short guide to bystander education. However, neither the brochure nor the website say any sexual assault prevention education is mandatory for students.

 While no details of Campus SaVE progress were given, Nicole Sullivan from Emerson’s Office of Communications and Marketing said, “Emerson College will be in full compliance by March 2014.”

Boston University

At Boston University, sexual assault policies can be found on an easy-to-navigate Lifebook section of the school website on a page titled “Sexual Misconduct and the Judicial Process”.  Last revised this past October, the policy includes many of the details required by the Campus SaVE Act.

 The policy, which is split into seven sections, describes the options available to a student who is sexually assaulted. Those options include a list of resources, an explanation of the judicial process, and making students aware of their right to a stay-away order or housing relocation before a judicial decision is reached. The last section of the policy tells students how to contact Boston University’s Title IX coordinator if they have concerns about the way the university handles sexual assault investigations.

 The policy in Boston University’s annual security report states that prevention education is mandatory for incoming students, and Student Health Services and the Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center are equipped to provide bystander training.

Northeastern University

Northeastern University does not seem to have a centralized policy.  However, the policy included in the most recent annual security report contains the definitions of rape and consent, as well as links to resources for students who have been sexually assaulted.

 This policy clearly urges students who have been sexually assaulted to report the crime to university police and states that faculty informed of sexual assault must urge the victim to report the assault to law enforcement.

The policy in the report mentions that students can get support from the University’s Violence Support, Intervention and Outreach Network.  The organization, which the report says is a coalition of university faculty in many different departments, contains more information on their homepage, including a student’s right to a no-contact order.

 The website also clarifies that students will not be charged with alcohol violations “as a result of a complaint of a sexual assault,” and details services available, which include education. However, neither the website nor the policy says whether education is mandatory for students.

Boston College

The Boston College Dean of Students Office could give no details, but stated “Boston College takes sexual assault very seriously and plans on being in full compliance with the Campus SaVE Act.”

Boston College’s current sexual assault policy is thorough. It is split neatly into eight sections which detail the process from immediate response and care, through filing a complaint with the university, to the university’s response and interim measures.

Definitions are provided on all types of sexual violence, and step-by-step outlines of both campus and criminal sexual assault proceedings are included.

Williams College

The website for Williams College contains a central page of information pertaining to sexual assault split into three sections entitled “Get Help,” “Reporting an Assault” and “What Is Sexual Assault?” These sections link to resources on separate pages.

 Definitions of sexual violence terminology make up the “Understanding the Williams Code of Conduct” page, and “Reporting an assault for disciplinary action at Williams” includes statements of the rights of students and the rights of the accused.

There is no clear “sexual assault policy” page online, and Williams College could benefit from one centralized policy, which they must have by March 2014 under the SaVE Act. Williams College officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s “Preventing and Addressing Sexual Misconduct” section on its website explains that the sexual harassment policies apply to students regardless of where the incident took place.

 The section also explains that students have the option of filing a criminal complaint to the MIT Police, the Cambridge Police, or other local law enforcement agencies. The tab under “Students: Options Available to Raise a Complaint of Sexual Misconduct” provides a link to the MIT police form as well as a number to a 24-hour advocate hotline. The “Policies and Procedures” page gives an overview of definitions, including effective consent.

When a complaint is reviewed, a Title IX coordinator will meet with the complainant and provide them with a copy of their policy “to provide information on the available forms of support, to explain the various options for pursuing the matter, including going to the police, and to discuss any accommodations that may be appropriate concerning the complainant’s academic studies, housing and employment.” The website gives details about university investigations into sexual assaults, and includes an overview of the judicial process. The policy also clearly states the rights of students to request a no-contact order and an academic or housing change.

The tab “Resources for Assistance” provides students with access to a variety of resources to individuals who believe they have been sexually harassed. Contact information for MIT’s Violence Prevention and Response Program, MIT Medical, MIT Chaplains, the MIT Police Office and the Ombuds office.

Harvard University

Harvard University’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response website contains a resources tab which leads to the university policy. Once here, individuals can click on the Title IX Office’s website where they will then be taken to the Office of the Assistant to the President’s Institutional Diversity and Equity page. They must then select the school or college that the assailant attends. Each school and unit has different policies and procedures on sexual assault complaints.

Harvard College’s section contains contact information for the Title IX coordinators as well as another link to the Sexual Harassment and Conduct guidelines. Here, individuals can find more contact information for available resources and different hotlines. It also provides procedure guidelines on who should be contacted when reporting a sexual assault case. Students also have information on how to handle complaints involving members of the Harvard University staff or faculty. As instructed by the SaVE Act, the individual can have another member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences present during discussions of the complaint.


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