Consent on Campus Part Two: Getting Help
by Taylor Synclair Goethe | published Aug. 30th, 2018
According to the CDC, one in three women and one in six men will experience some sort of sexual violence in their lifetime. Despite how common sexual assault crimes are, it still remains one of the most under-reported crimes in the country. Fears of not being believed, being blamed or being persecuted keeps victims silent. Our culture has the tendency to not believe victims even though less than three percent of sexual assault reports are false. For many survivors, the act of coming forward about sexual assault is another traumatic experience on top of their initial attack.
Reporting assault on a college campus can be even more difficult. An estimated 85–90 percent of assault survivors knew their attacker prior to the incident. In a campus environment, the attacker is very likely within their friend group.
Karly Nocera is the RESTORE advocate on campus. Formerly named the Rape Crisis Center, RESTORE is sponsored by Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York. The program provides free crisis intervention and support for survivors of sexual assault and loved ones. It also conducts outreach on sexual assault awareness. Nocera explained that sexual assault accusations often split friend groups.
“People will take sides and place blame on the victim,” she said.
She describes this as an act of “self-preservation.” Students who feel their social group is falling apart would rather blame the victim for starting “drama” as opposed to holding the assaulter accountable for their actions. Even friends or family members who are supportive of victims can add to their trauma by pressuring them to follow their orders. Loved ones who force their advice on how survivors should respond to their attack run the risk of alienating the survivor which could lead them to shut down to other treatment options.
"I make sure to give [the survivors] the power in all of our talks," Nocera said. Sexual assault at its core is about the abuse of power of one individual on another. Allowing victims to make their own decisions about how they respond to their attack helps them regain power and lowers the risk of re-victimization. Not providing unsolicited advice to survivors isn’t always easy, especially if they decide not to report.
Because of the strenuous and toxic environment that accompanies the experience of pressing charges, it’s not uncommon for victims to forego pressing charges and only seek counseling or medical support. The goal of advocates isn’t to put attackers in prison but help survivors heal. Initially this involves trying to remove feelings of guilt, shame or blame that are continuously placed on victims.
Nocera commonly tells survivors she counsels “you didn’t ask for this ... even if you were drunk, even if it was your romantic partner. You didn’t ask to be violated.”
Enough is Enough
In July 2015, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into legislation what Campus Answers — an organization dedicated to campus sexual harassment, diversity and discrimination training — called "the most aggressive state law" targeted at ending sexual assault on campus. The law, titled “Enough is Enough,” provides more rights and protections to student sexual assault survivors on college campuses.
According to Campus Answers, the law requires schools to adopt specific policies focused on sexual assault in their codes of conduct, including:
- Consent to a sexual act, or prior consent, does not necessarily constitute consent to any other sexual act.
- Consent is required even if initiator is under the influence.
- Consent may be withdrawn at any time.
- Incapacitated people cannot give legal consent.
The new law also required that all colleges must adopt an “affirmative consent” policy. Affirmative Consent is a part of the “Yes Means Yes” movement that advocates that only an enthusiastic yes should be considered consent. This requirement was in response to the many assault cases that have been dropped because the survivor didn’t say a verbal “no.” Many scenarios can lead to a victim being unable to say no such as inebriation, unconsciousness or fear for their life. Affirmative consent closes this loophole.
New York State law reads:
“Affirmative consent is a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity. Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent. The definition of consent does not vary based upon a participant's sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression."
In the case an RIT student wishes to report, they have several options, legal protections and support sources on campus. There are two different processes to consider.
The first kind of report is to press charges. This takes place within the criminal justice system and must be reported to the police. The other kind is a Title IX claim and this has to be done through Public Safety. Speaking to police officers or Public Safety alone can be a daunting process, so it is recommended that students speak with a counselor about their options or as a support system.
RIT has several on-campus resources with Title IX training in which students can receive counseling, some confidential and others non-confidential. Non-confidential means that the individual who learns of a sexual assault is required to report it to the authorities. For students who don’t want to report their assault to authorities it is important to know which campus resources are confidential or not.
|RIT Counseling Center||RIT Public Safety|
|RIT Student Health Center||RIT Student Financial Services|
|RIT Center for Women and Gender||Office of Diversity and Inclusion|
|RIT Ombuds Office||RIT Advocacy Program|
|Center for Religious Life||RIT Human Resources|
|NTID Counseling and Academic Advising Services||RIT Student Government Office|
|RIT Center for Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution|
|RIT Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships|
|International Student Services|
RESTORE is a third option which does not involve directly reporting to the criminal justice system or to an RIT office. RESTORE is an off-campus facility that partners with campuses for the sole purpose of advocating for rape survivors. Nocera explained that utilizing your on-campus RESTORE advocate is a good resource to understand all of your options. Since they are an off-campus group, all interactions with a RESTORE advocate are confidential.
“RESTORE College Advocates can provide information on medical and legal options, as well as provide information about reporting to the college and the student conduct process. Advocates can provide support and short-term counseling regardless of whether or not they [survivors] choose to report an incident,” Nocera said.
It is important to remember that RESTORE advocates, although trained to deal with survivors, are not licensed therapists or counselors but are volunteers of the hospital. In fact, students who get to the hospital to receive medical care after their attack are automatically assigned a RESTORE advocate. Their role can be as small as staying with a student during their rape kit evaluation to maintaining a relationship with survivors from the initial police report to the day in court. Nocera explains often her role is sitting down with students as they report to Public Safety or police to translate “cop questions.” Her office is in the Center for Women and Gender.
“[I’m available] to make appointments on Monday and Wednesday to meet with students about counseling, volunteering, support or to understand their options,” Nocera said.
If a student is unable to go into an office but needs immediate support, the CARES hotline is a valuable resource.
“CARES is a program of the RIT Center for Women and Gender. A group of trained and dedicated volunteers are available 24 hours a day to respond to members of the RIT community that have been impacted by sexual assault, harassment, relationship violence and/or stalking,” the CARES website states.
Many sexual assault support services like RESTORE or CARES depend on volunteering services. Becoming a volunteer for RESTORE requires 40 hours of training, and like CARES, they help with answering hotline calls or assisting staff in other capacities. If you want to get involved with RESTORE you must apply through Planned Parenthood. In order to volunteer on campus, reach out to one of the many counseling resources.
Surviving sexual assault is a long, painful experience. In times like these, Nocera has one crucial message.
“You aren’t alone,” she said.