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Protest questions U.’s aid to sexual assault victims

Monday, October 29, 2007

Signs reading “Sexual Assault Happens Here” and demanding a stronger sexual assault policy were posted on trees outside Wilson Hall Friday morning as the Sexual Assault Task Force protested the lack of adequate on-campus resources for victims.

Task force members wearing shirts saying “Stop Campus Rape” – seeking to mimic a similar protest by a group of female Brown students in 1990 – put up banners and T-shirts made by sexual assault survivors at Brown and in Providence.

By protesting on the first day of Parents Weekend, the group hoped to bring wider attention to the issue of sexual assault on campus and to have as many people as possible sign a petition calling for better University resources and education programs aimed at preventing sexual assault.

“It’s Parents Weekend, the University has planted a lot of grass trying to make the University look good,” said Amy Littlefield ’09, a columnist for The Herald’s post- magazine and co-founder of the task force. “I think that pointing out that the issues are the same as in 1990 and approaching parents with information is a more powerful form of protest than your traditional rally.”

The task force, which was formed this spring, currently has over 15 members from Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design. It has begun creating its own resources for students, such as a confidential support group reaching out to survivors, Littlefield said.

Though the task force has received funding from the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, it wants financial support from the University, Littlefield said.

“The women’s center has been fantastic, but they’re cutting out of their resources to give to us,” Littlefield said. “We need support from the people with the money.”

The task force also wants the University to formally recognize the extent of sexual assaults that occur on Brown’s campus. Recently released Department of Public Safety statistics showed four sexual assaults on campus in 2006, but task force organizers say sexual assault is typically an underreported crime.

“As of three weeks ago, if you typed ‘sexual assault’ in the A-Z on Brown’s Web site, nothing showed up,” said Marta daSilva ’09, a member of the task force. “We’d like to see an acknowledgement and awareness (on the part of the University) to look the issue in the face and deal with it as a real problem.”

Littlefield said the University is “uncomfortable” dealing with sexual assault issues. “We’d like to make it more uncomfortable for them not to address the issue,” she said.

The task force is calling for the creation of a full-time staff position to deal with sexual assault cases, a sexual assault resource center, University backing for a peer-led support group for survivors and a 24-hour on-campus sexual assault hotline. It is also calling for more accurate reporting of the number of sexual assault cases.

This spring, the University created a Sexual Assault Advisory Board, comprising administrators, students and some members of the Sexual Assault Task Force, said Margaret Klawunn, associate vice president for campus life and dean of student life. The board will consider the task force’s demands, and Klawunn said she was supportive of the task force’s wishes.

Littlefield said though the advisory board “does open up a dialogue” between students and administrators, it does not have “as much potential for change” as the task force. “It hasn’t changed anything yet,” she said.

Though the University has “a lot of services” for sexual assault victims, Klawunn said there should be one person in the administration in charge of such cases.

“We’re making a proposal for funding for a full-time position to the University Resource Center,” she said. The proposal will be made on behalf of the Division of Campus Life in November. If the University grants funding in the spring, the position should be filled before next fall, Klawunn said.

Friday evening marked the opening of a sexual assault resource center at the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center. Littlefield said the task force plans to have staffers at the center to talk to survivors. The center will also be a “safe place to study.”

“If a survivor feels she’s going to go to the library and see her perpetrator, she can come (to the center instead),” Littlefield said.

Many students and parents who had stopped by the protest Friday morning came to the resource center’s opening. By the end of the day, the task force had about 50 parents and 100 students and faculty sign its petition, Littlefield said.

Some visitors to campus were outraged after talking to the protestors.

“I find it shocking in this day and age,” said Catherine Herrmann, mother of David Dean ’11. “I graduated from George Washington University in 1978. We had a rape crisis center back then and the University supported it.”

Herrmann said she thought “Brown would be a university that would stand up for these issues and care about them. As a parent I understand rape happens. I don’t understand how the University can not provide services,” she said.

Students and faculty echoed similar sentiments.

Tom Chen GS, who was involved with Peer Advocates of Sexual Respect as an undergraduate student at Amherst College, said he was “surprised” Brown doesn’t support a similar counseling program for sexual assault survivors.

Associate Professor of Religious Studies Donna Wulff, who signed up for the task force’s e-mail listserv at the protest, said the University’s response to sexual assault is “inadequate.”

But some seemed less worried.

Hank Alterman P’08, father of Evan Alterman ’08, said he thinks “it’s the responsibility of the administration to support survivors” but admitted that he would probably be more concerned if he had a daughter at Brown instead of a son.

Many students who stopped to read the banners and T-shirts declined to comment, saying they didn’t know enough about the issue.

The task force’s future plans include setting up a peer education program, starting a hotline on a pay-as-you-go cell phone and setting up an anonymous self-reporting system to keep track of the number of sexual assault cases at Brown.

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