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Editorial: Progress on combatting sexual assault

In May, President Christina Paxson P’19 formed the Task Force on Sexual Assault to confront the issue of sexual assault on campus. The task force — which currently consists of 17 members, including four undergraduates and three graduate students — convened for 11 weekly meetings, four open forums and 10 outreach events. The results of these productive conversations are manifested in the task force’s interim report, which was released to the Brown community Tuesday.

The 25-page document highlights the key themes the task force took away from its meetings: the importance of clear information and timelines, the traumatic nature of these crimes and processes and the need for consistent guidelines for punishment. From their observations, the task force members seem to have captured the conversations heard across campus in the past year.

The report is light on proposals to direct students to the criminal justice system and focuses instead on how to reform the campus judicial processes required by federal law. The measures presented would improve sensitivity in handling sexual assault cases so students feel more comfortable filing and following through with complaints — an important step in deterring future misconduct.

Above all, the interim report appropriately highlights the need to address the underlying cause of sexual assault. It indisputably recognizes rape culture as a primary cause of not only the respondents’ actions but also the lack of intervention by bystanders. Indeed, the report notes that while the majority of Brown students are respectful, they “are too often silent.” Proper education, while available, is only valuable if students act on it.

On the whole, the task force rightly addresses the role that campus culture plays and the need to reinforce that all community members “are equally valued, respected and safe.” Upholding this value system is critical in order to achieve any degree of progress, and doing so requires proper education and awareness.

Accordingly, the task force makes great strides toward comprehensive reform of campus culture. Praising the existing Sexual Assault Peer Education program, the task force members call on the University to immediately allocate resources for and plan further training and awareness programs to inform students, faculty members and staff members. Only through education, they suggest, will the Brown community “know the right thing to do.”

The task force’s findings also remind us how desperately we need some of the most basic fixes. Many of the changes proposed are simple, and while we will see their impact immediately, should have pre-empted the campus and national outcry. For example, the report recommends a simple one-page graphic to show students all the resources and options available to them after an assault, mandatory training for everyone on campus and a single comprehensive policy on prohibited conduct.

But these are commonsense reforms that the University and the Office of Student Life should have made years ago. This is a reminder that while campus sexual assault is an old problem, it has never received the attention it deserved.

Though the task force’s work to date is but a small step in what should continue to be a highly transparent assessment of campus sexual assault, the interim report provided the community at large with much-needed insight into the problems that plague our campus and others around the nation. To build on the report’s great progress, the administration must continue to foster discussion and encourage feedback.

The report outlines significant areas for improvement over winter break and through the spring, and we encourage the University to implement many of the task force’s recommendations.


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