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August 17, 2022

SARU pushes for greater awareness of sexual assault at University

By AUDREY COCKRUM | November 29, 2012

In recent months, the Johns Hopkins Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU) has expressed the concern that the University administration has not created an environment or system where students can safely come forward to report instances of sexual assault on campus.

SARU is a student-run campus group committed to maintaining a twenty-four hour hotline for sexual assault victims and serving as a source of support and advocacy for its peers. Apart from running the hotline, SARU seeks to spread awareness of sexual assault as a toxic issue that too often goes unacknowledged on college campuses.

“One of the most horrifying statistics from a National Institute of Justice report in 2000 indicates that between 20 and 25 percent of college age women will be victims of rape or attempted rape during their college career,” senior Nassira Bougrab, co-director of SARU, wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

“What is further disturbing is that 80 to 90 percent of these sexual assaults will be perpetrated by someone known to the victim,” Bougrab wrote. “Between this data and personal anecdotes, sexual assault clearly happens on university campuses and Johns Hopkins is no exception.”

With these statistics in mind, SARU expressed alarm that the majority of reports filed by Hopkins Campus Safety and Security in recent years show no cases of sexual assault on campus.

The organization believes that this is not because sexual assaults do not occur at Hopkins, but rather because victims do not feel comfortable reporting cases.

“The issue of sexual violence on college campuses is too often afflicted by a culture of silence,” Bougrab wrote. “We worry that this sends the public the message that sexual violence is tolerated within the community.”

One freshman girl, who spoke to The News-Letter under the condition that her name not be published, expressed her cynicism towards the notion of sexual awareness on campus. This cynicism, she said, derives from experience: at a fraternity party in her first weeks at Hopkins, she was sexually assaulted. She was, as she described herself, “drunk out of her mind” -- but also “confused,” “scared,” and “frustrated” by the foreign situation and the sense of isolation it prompted.

“I didn’t know who to turn to, and I thought it wasn’t legitimate because the thought that goes through your head is ‘there’s probably nobody at Hopkins who’s capable of doing that kind of thing... Hopkins people are good people…’” she said. “At the time, I was so drunk that I didn’t know who this guy was. I was drunk enough to not remember his name, and it was dark so I didn’t really remember his face, but I’ve heard some things over the past couple of weeks to make me realize that  I was not only ‘legitimately’ sexually assaulted, but I was sexually assaulted by a Johns Hopkins student.”

She laughed at the University’s available statistics on such instances.

“Apparently the sexual assault count at Johns Hopkins is zero? That’s probably just wrong. People get scared to report what happens to them, and people think that the administration isn’t going to take this seriously, and whatever else,” she said. “I read the thing about Amherst College and how they treated a girl who was sexually assaulted. I didn’t want to be that girl, but at the same time, I think Hopkins — both the administration and the students —needs to know that it does happen, there are people capable of doing that to someone here, and that it’s not always just some stereotypical guy in an alley.”

The University claims to be aware of the issue of sexual assault, and in recent months both the office of the Dean of Student Life and the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) have taken steps to increase awareness of sexual assault as well as to expand and develop the resources available to students.

“‘Zero tolerance’ is the committed stance of JHU with respect to sexual assault,” Susan Boswell, Dean of Student Life, wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Each fall during orientation, Student Life and OIE conduct training with undergraduate and graduate students to address the University’s policy regarding sexual assault and to spread awareness of the issue. They deliver presentations on how to identify, prevent and respond to sexual violence and sexual harassment.

Student Life and OIE also conduct training for faculty and staff members on how to assist a student who reveals or reports a case of sexual violence.

“We have offices with trained professionals who meet with students to hear about their experience and support them through their decision-making process as it relates to their desire to pursue a complaint and their needs for emotional support,” Boswell wrote.

These offices seek to handle reports with discretion, and address sexual assault from both an investigatory and an emotional support standpoint.

“OIE has three attorneys with backgrounds in investigating, prosecuting and defending sexual harassment and assault cases,” Boswell wrote. “Also, JHU’s lead investigatory officer is a former Maryland State Trooper with 22 years experience.”

Separately, the Counseling Center and the Johns Hopkins Student Assistance Program (JSHAP) both employ licensed psychologists and social workers to provide a therapeutic, confidential setting where students can discuss sexual violence.

“Student Life is committed to improving our communication with students about the existence of sexual assault and encouraging students to be allies for one another and report any incident or sexual,” Boswell said. “We remain open to receiving feedback and making improvements to the way in which we respond to and work with sexual assault victims.”

Recently, Boswell’s office and OIE have been working together to heighten awareness of sexual harassment and violence by developing additional training regarding the issue.

“In partnership with Student Life, OIE is in the process of rolling out training for student groups, including student athletes, students in Greek Life, and [those] living in dorms,” Caroline Laguerre-Brown, Vice Provost for Institutional Equity, wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

“OIE has been working on developing an online video training as well that we expect to go live with in spring 2013.”

On its current website, OIE provides information about Hopkins’ sexual violence and sexual harassment policies and complaint procedures. It also provides the contact information for students to reach OIE, the University’s Title IX Coordinator and JHU Security if they are sexually violated.

To advance the University’s current resources, Student Life has been working with the Counseling Center to expand the roles of some of their counselors to that of “victims’ advocates.”

The roles will ideally be secured by spring 2013, Boswell said.

With this new system in place, students who experience sexual violence will be able to contact a confidential support person 24 hours a day and receive assistance navigating any investigatory processes and working with Security or law enforcement. The counselor will also be able to advocate on the student’s behalf during those processes.

“To the extent any JHU student, staff or faculty member is not clear about sexual violence support resources or how to report an act of sexual violence, OIE and Student Life want to continue to know about that and respond in a helpful and comprehensive way,” Laguerre-Brown said.

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