Staff Editorial: High hopes for sexual assault prevention post

More than two years after the hiring process formally began—and almost two decades after the first conversations about the position—Washington University has finally filled a position that will coordinate sexual assault prevention and education efforts on campus.

The news that Kim Webb will lead a new Office of Community Health and Sexual Assault Services next year is long overdue.

For far too many years, the University has had no centralized way of coordinating the campus’s violence prevention and survivor support networks. Our community remains woefully unprepared to handle the needs of the victims and survivors of sexual assault, both objectively and compared to our peer institutions. Student organizations like the Sexual Assault and Rape Actions Hotline (S.A.R.A.H), the Committee Organized on Rape Education (C.O.R.E) and Men Organized for Rape Education (M.O.R.E) have collectively made significant contributions to the campus culture; their achievements, however, have been tempered by the absence of clear support from the University’s central administration. Webb’s office will be vital in resolving each of these problems.

The new position will help centralize and streamline the violence prevention and education efforts on campus. It will give survivors a clear way to navigate the network of clinical and legal resources that already exist in Student Health Services and the Washington University Police Department, respectively. It will send a clear message to students, faculty and staff that sexual assault is a serious problem that cuts across our campus, requiring community-wide action. But it will not—and must not—be an end to the conversation about sexual and relationship violence.

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The most recent study of sexual assault prevalence at Washington University reveals the same horrifying reality as at every institution of higher education around the nation: One in four female students will survive rape or attempted rape during their time on campus. Given this reality, Webb must hit the ground running when she begins her new position on June 1. Beginning on her first day of work, Webb will have approximately two-and-a-half months to prepare for freshman orientation; although she may be tempted to spend the summer acclimating to campus, Webb must spend it working hard to prepare for what is statistically the most dangerous time for new students. In her job, she will need to be creative, innovative and at times forceful. She must challenge our community’s definition of itself and strip away the assumptions that make sexual and relationship violence endemic on campus.

Webb must learn from the lengthy process that has led to her hiring. Like most institutions, the University operates at a glacial pace. The nature of Webb’s job will often put her at odds with the way in which both students and the administration have behaved in the past; nevertheless, she must remain resolute and rock the boat when necessary.

The most important determinant of Webb’s success will be the degree to which our campus participates in efforts to reduce sexual violence alongside her own attempts. This problem affects our entire community and the solution is similarly communal. Together, students, faculty and staff must be willing to support survivors who come forward, speak out when they see high-risk situations and recognize sexual assault prevention as the priority that it must be.