Explainers

Sexual assault culture at Syracuse University, explained

Daily Orange File Photo

Syracuse University was the first private university to support the "Enough is Enough" sexual assault prevention legislation. All public colleges and universities in New York state are required to adopt it.

The issue of sexual assault has become a lightning rod on college campuses around the country. Headline-grabbing and high profile cases at the University of Virginia, Columbia University and, most recently, Stanford University have made both students and universities grapple with questions about sexual assault, consent and what can be done to reduce the alarming statistic that one in five women enrolled at a four-year college will be sexually assaulted.

Here’s a primer on how Syracuse University is dealing with sexual assault:

What resources are available for survivors of sexual assault at SU?

Sexual and Relationship Violence Response Team is a relatively new unit within the Counseling Center that deals specifically with issues of sexual assault. It was created after the closing of the Advocacy Center in 2014. Assistance at the Counseling Center is confidential and privileged. Vera House also provides confidential and privileged support, but it’s not through the university and is located in the city of Syracuse.

counseling-center1Frankie Prijatel | Senior Staff Photographer

Where and how can you report sexual assaults?

Students can report an assault to the university or to the Syracuse Police Department. Or they choose not to report an assault at all. If a student goes to the Department of Public Safety, SU’s campus police, DPS is obligated to report the incident to SPD, although the student is under no obligation to file a report with SPD.

When a student reports an assault to the university, they have the option to seek confidential help or they could ask the university to conduct an investigation which could result in disciplinary consequences, such as expulsion or probation. Once an investigation is triggered, the student loses confidentiality.

Students can also file a Title IX complaint at the office of Equal Opportunity, Inclusion and Resolution Services, which is led by SU’s Title IX coordinator. The complaint is a formal document asking the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate a sexual assault claim and how the university handled it.

Title IX is a law that was passed in 1972 to bar gender discrimination in sports. It prohibits any institution receiving federal funding to discriminate on the basis of sex. In recent years, however, it has been used as a tool by survivors of sexual assault.

Sexual Assault Where to GoEmma Comtois | Senior Design Editor

What happened to the Advocacy Center?

The Advocacy Center was shut down in 2014 shortly after Kent Syverud became chancellor. The move caused widespread anger from the campus community and drew the attention of national media. Although the university said the decision to close the Advocacy Center restructured sexual assault resources and didn’t decrease them, the lack of transparency about the decision was a major factor in THE General Body’s sit-in during the fall of 2014.

New York state passed a sweeping sexual assault bill called Enough is Enough last year that had a major impact on how SU deals with sexual assault.

First, the law adopted affirmative consent, or what activists call “Yes Means Yes.” In the law, the exact definition of consent is, “a clear, unambiguous and voluntary agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity.”

New York is one of only two states that have legally adopted affirmative consent, the other being California.

Other requirements in the law include amnesty for alcohol and drugs at sexual assault resource centers, a survivors Bill of Rights and mandatory training for students, faculty and staff.

Syverud was the first private college president or chancellor to support “Enough is Enough” in New York state.

Sexual Assault GraphicsEmma Comtois | Senior Design Editor

What does the data say about sexual assault at SU?

One hundred and eighty-two people used the Counseling Center’s sexual assault resources during the 2014-15 academic year. And while that’s only a tiny fraction of SU’s total student population — which is about 21,000 — it’s no surprise that the numbers don’t match the national one in five statistic because sexual assault is a deeply underreported crime.

The numbers are even lower looking at SU’s Clery Act data. The Clery Act was passed in 1990 and requires all universities to report statistics about crime on campus. In SU’s 2015 report, only one instance of sexual assault was noted. This does not mean that only one assault occurred on campus during that entire year. Rather, it only means that one person decided to report it.

The low Clery Act numbers are not unique to SU. According to the American Association of University Women, 91 percent of colleges reported zero sexual assaults in 2014.

But we’re going to get more detailed data about sexual assault at SU very soon.

In a report released in 2014 from the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, it was recommended that schools conduct a campus climate survey to collect more accurate and up-to-date data on sexual assault. Although there is no federal legal requirement to conduct the survey, the “Enough is Enough” law requires all colleges and universities in New York to do so.

SU officials took this recommendation and sent out a survey last spring. But due to a lack of response, the deadline was extended. Results of the survey will be released soon.

The Daily Orange will continue to update this Explainer as new information about the sexual assault culture at Syracuse University is released.

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