Continuing Progress on Sexual Assault

The establishment of the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) Sexual Assault Task Force (see News, page 5) has us considering the progress that has been made over the past year to address sexual violence on our campuses. We have seen improvements on many fronts, but we think that this new task force represents a crucial shift in attention that has been lacking so far.

Revisions to administrative policies were a necessary step in making sexual assault reporting safer and more streamlined. Yesterday, Pitzer College released an update to its sexual assault policies that brought those policies in line with the rest of the 5Cs (see News, page 4). Cross-campus standardization has long been a contentious problem, especially in incidents involving students from different schools, and we’re glad to see the Pitzer community taking action to resolve the issue. 

But improving our reporting process is not enough. Formal processes are only one part of the equation. Earlier this school year, we reported on the founding of the Scripps College and Pitzer College Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault (see our issues from Sept. 27, 2013 and April 4, respectively). These student groups provide crucial, compassionate support for survivors in ways that administrators cannot. While we have made it clear in the past that we think a 5C Advocates group would be beneficial for our community, we’re obviously strong supporters of the Advocates whether or not they unify. We have heard of first steps being taken toward forming an Advocates organization at Claremont McKenna College, and we hope to see similar action taken at Harvey Mudd College before long. 

Still, we see both reporting policy changes and greater support for survivors as fundamentally reactive ways of addressing the problem of sexual violence, in that they deal with what happens after a sexual assault has occurred. For this reason, we commend the Advocates for being outspoken peer educators, and we are glad to see the establishment of Teal Dot of the Claremont Colleges, a cross-consortium group that provides bystander training. However, we believe that there is much more room at the 5Cs for comprehensive education programs aimed at the prevention of sexual violence. 

That’s why the ASPC Sexual Assault Task Force is a crucial step in the right direction. The groups involved in the task force have already been involved in discussions about the prevention of sexual violence, but these conversations have mostly been focused on specific events or spaces. Uniting these groups provides a new opportunity to address campus culture as a whole in a way that has not been attempted yet: student leaders—including those directly involved in shaping the social scene—administrators, and educators working together to stop sexual violence before it occurs. We hope that student governments at the rest of the Claremont Colleges will follow ASPC's lead and form task forces that unify prevention and education among campus groups, impacting individual behaviors and social climates across the consortium. 

The establishment of this task force—and the ones we hope to see established in the future—does not, however, mean that we can afford to ease up on any of our other efforts. Administrations must keep policies updated to ensure that the reporting of sexual assault is as simple and safe as possible. Resources for survivors must be strengthened and made more broadly accessible. And efforts at prevention must be redoubled, because we have yet to make comprehensive progress in this area. Only when we address all of these components of the equation with equal attention will we be successful in minimizing the occurrence of sexual violence and strengthening our response to it on our campuses.