Sexual Violence Task Force gives recommendations

Photo by Brenda Lin

Last week, The President’s Sexual Violence Task Force finalized their recommendations to prevent sexual assaults on campus and to support victims of assault.

The task force was formed late last spring after Tech students Emily Gooding, Maggie Burcham and Annie Hess, published a white paper on what they felt the Institute should do to address the problem of sexual assault.

The task force met during the summer and made many recommendations including funding a centrally funded office to handle cases of sexual assault and provide outreach and advocacy.

The report also recommended providing and mandating sexual assault training to all new and incoming Tech students, staff and faculty.  They also hope for funding campaigns to raise awareness about sexual violence on campus and developing a system for anonymous reporting and crisis response.

According to Lynn Durham, Assistant Vice President and Chief of Staff to the President and Chair of the task force, the President has already set aside $150,000 for the Wellness Initiative.

The top priority for the funds is for sexual violence prevention including the hiring of a director for a sexual violence prevention center.

According to the Task Force, the centrally funded office, whose working title is the Sexual Violence Prevention (SVP) Center, would be responsible for serving as a response center for survivors and provide a central location for training, outreach and planning as it relates to sexual violence prevention.

“Right now there’s several programs on campus, the VOICE initiative, but they are splintered throughout campus, and so there’s no one centralized place for people to know where to go to get the information they need, to get the resources, to get the help they need….” Durham said.

One important function of the center will be to serve as a resource for victims of sexual violence and provide their options for reporting and help. The VOICE Initiative, a joint program run by the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and Health Promotions, currently services as a resource for these students.

“What we’re really hoping for with a separate center is that it will provide a clear home and a clear leader on the topic,” said Melanie DeMaeyer, Program Coordinator of the Women’s Resource Center and task force member.

Another concern, according to DeMaeyer is that there currently aren’t enough resources to help victims in the way the program would like to.

“We don’t have the manpower, we don’t have the people to take somebody through the process like that,” Durham said. “They come in, they report, they talk… they get referred over to counseling or referred to psychology. If they have to get a rape kit done, they take them down to Grady Hospital…. It’s just not as hands-on as what could be done.”

Another recommendation is to require training on sexual violence prevention. New students are introduced to some points of sexual violence prevention at Familiarization and Adaptation to the Surroundings and Environs of Tech (FASET), and the WRC presents information on sexual violence to health classes, but there is not required, in-depth training.

“The task force feels it’s really important that all students and all faculty and staff have some sort of training,” Durham said.

Another major focus of the recommendation is organizing media campaigns to raise awareness about the issue and especially to engage men on the problem.

“Engaging men is a really critical part of what we’re going to be doing because [at] Georgia Tech, the reality of our male to female student ratio [means that] we have a really unique opportunity to be leaders in engaging men to end sexual violence,” said Dillon Roseen, Undergraduate Student President and task force member.

Roseen is also leading an initiative to produce a video series in which prominent men on campus talk about the issue of sexual assault and encourage their peers to get involved. SGA is also forming an SGA-led student subcommittee dedicated to sexual violence prevention.

According to DeMaeyer, there is currently no system in place for entirely anonymous reporting for sexual assault. Victims of sexual violence can file confidential reports at the WRC and receive guidance about their rights, the Institute’s responsibilities and support.

The consultation is confidential, but their name is written in a file. The goal, according to DeMaeyer is that students can report completely confidentially.

“One of the big things is we really don’t know the full scope of the problem here at Georgia Tech because we don’t have the data because most women, or most victims, don’t come forward and don’t give that, so we don’t know the scope, and that is one of our biggest issues right now,” Durham said.

After the report was finalized, members of the task force and others on campus began implementing parts of the recommendation. The communication strategy for raising awareness of sexual violence on campus, for example, is already being planned. After the possible structure and details of the Wellness Initiative are determined by Strategic Consulting, a search can begin for a director of the SVP Center.

Last year, sexual violence came to the forefront after a fraternity on campus, Phi Kappa Tau, was disbanded for allowing a “pattern of sexual violence that… suggests a deep-rooted culture within the fraternity that is obscene, indecent and endangers women,” among other violations. One particular event was a so-called “rape-bait” e-mail which suggested that fraternity members provide alcohol to women in order to have sex with them. A fraternity member was also arrested for sexual assault in February.

“I think it’s very easy for people to come into college not being sure of who they are as a person and joining a group, a club, an organization and then finding their identity through that and [Phi Kappa Tau] could be an example of that. I don’t think everyone in that group was or is a type of person who is going to commit an act of sexual assault, but I think that when you are a part of that group and you’re not willing to [speak out], I think you can be just as much at fault….,” Roseen said.