Bill could paint clearer picture of sexual assault on college campuses

Created: 07/30/2014 9:58 PM
By: Erica Zucco, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Wednesday, federal lawmakers introduced a bill meant to standardize handling of sexual assault on college campuses, and to paint a clearer picture of how often sexual assaults occur.

The bill would require colleges to assign “confidential advisors” to help survivors through the resources available on campus. It would mandate that colleges couldn’t punish victims for other infractions they confess to while reporting an assault, such as underage drinking. It would standardize disciplinary procedures and require an impartial body to conduct them, prohibiting athletic departments or other subgroups from conducting them; and it would also require each school to give all students an anonymous survey, with the idea of giving schools more accurate depictions of the number and nature of sexual assaults on campus.

Sexual assault survivor Micaela Cadena experienced a series of violent attacks during her time at a small private college, and says that she received little help from the school. She says they essentially turned a blind eye, and hopes future sexual assault victims have better resources and support to aid in their recovery and healing.

Cadena faced challenges at her campus including the fact that her alleged attacker was a prominent athlete; she says that made the campus more reluctant to take action after she notified them of assault.

“In my situation I had very real fear about repercussions to myself and my academic career and I also still had very real deep fear that the person who had caused harm to me would bring great violence to me and the people I loved if I were to report,” Cadena said.

She says that from her experience and perspective, she believes universities need to do a better job to catering to individual survivors and listening to what they want to do going forward.

“I do believe that the person that has lived through and survived these events needs to be the one making decisions about what course of action to take – whether that be reporting to a school or law enforcement institution [or not],” Cadena said. “I do believe it’s the school’s responsibility to have a range of options available for students that have lived through assault.”

From her experience, one of the things Cadena is skeptical about is the “confidential advisor” requirement. She worries that some survivors may not want to work with that person.

“I thought on paper it sounded really good but that in practice it’s hard to imagine someone that’s not connected to the bureaucracy or politics or system that these college campuses are,” Cadena said.

She believes that one of the most valuable pieces in the legislation is a mandate that all students at every campus take an anonymous survey about sexual assault.

“I think this legislation is an important first step especially the transparency piece so we can start to measure what’s really happening because as we know these numbers are really underreported and a confidential survey might be the only way to actually start to expose what’s happening,” Cadena said.

Cadena notes that this piece of legislation is a good first step, but that attention must also be paid to a culture that blames and shames victims as opposed to providing them with support, compassion and agency.

“I hope this starts a conversation among many campuses and across our New Mexico colleges and universities so that they can work with advocates, with students, with leaders across the state, to make sure that we’re creating a range of options so every student can be on campus as they deserve to be – building their future, building the beginning of a strong and healthy life for their New Mexican family,” Cadena said.

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