Time to improve sexual assault prevention efforts

Nearly two years ago, a man tailgated into Myers Hall, forced his way into a female student’s dorm room and raped her. That incident jumpstarted a campus-wide conversation about security and sexual assault on campus, prompting many of the security measures that students are familiar with today, including peepholes in doors, closed-circuit video monitoring in entryways and more. The incident also underscored the need for a campus coordinator of sexual assault prevention and provided the impetus for a movement of students already interested in the issue to begin lobbying the University for the creation of the position.

Most sexual assaults on campus are nothing like the 2007 Myers incident—statistically, most are acquaintance rapes that go unreported—but that does not make them less traumatic to the victims or less damaging to the University community. Student organizations like the Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline (S.A.R.A.H.), the Committee Organized for Rape Education (C.O.R.E.) and Men Organized for Rape Education (M.O.R.E.) offer the University a remarkable service, but their efforts would be radically improved with the help of a University-wide office capable of centralizing and streamlining the education and support networks that currently exist.

Despite the combined efforts of the rape education groups on campus, two Student Union Senate resolutions and a commitment by the University to move forward on the position, no measurable progress has been made toward the hiring of a sexual assault prevention coordinator. As a result, the University remains woefully unprepared to handle the needs of the victims and survivors of sexual assault who live within our community, instead allowing the problem to go on unmitigated and unsolved. This is unacceptable.

Research on the rates of sexual assault within university communities—including a 2004 study done at Washington University—demonstrates clearly and unequivocally that rape is an issue that we must face as a community. It is not enough to educate our community about the horrifying reality that one in four women will survive rape or attempted rape during her time on campus; we must actively work to create a community in which sexual assault is not tolerated. In the tragic cases where rape does occur, we must do a better job of ensuring that the survivors of sexual assault are supported by every resource the University has to offer.

It is time for clear progress on this issue. Although it has been decided that the coordinator’s position will be housed under the umbrella of the Habif Health and Wellness Center, as of now, no timeline has been set for filling the position. According to Alan Glass, director of the Habif Health and Wellness Center and the vice chancellor to whom the new coordinator would report, no timeline has been set because of the difficulties of approving a position description.

“Once it is approved, the search may take a while,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Editorial Board. “We want to do this in a thoughtful way, focusing on the unique needs of the Washington University community.”

While we admire the care with which Glass is approaching this process, there is no reason that it should take more than six months to define a job description for this position. Though it is certainly important that this position reflects a consensus on the needs of the community, there is a pressing need to create this position as soon as possible. When the University community is so clearly united in its vision and resolves to solve a problem, the time for a solution has arrived. For sexual assault prevention, that time is now.

The administration must step forward, make progress toward establishing a clear office for sexual assault prevention efforts and prove that it considers sexual assault prevention the priority that it deserves to be.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.