Manhattan Trails Benchmarks on Sexual Assault

by Rose Brennan & Lauren Schuster

Asst. Editor & Staff Writer

The 2017 Safety and Fire Report released by the Office of Public Safety revealed some troubling trends regarding sexual assault and dating violence on campus.

Within the past three years, there have been four rapes on Manhattan College’s campus.  The report also recorded one dating violence allegation and four stalking allegations during this time.

Out of these nine allegations, none of them were later revealed to be unfounded.

The rape and stalking numbers have increased from last year’s report which recorded three rape allegations and one stalking allegation.  The dating violence number remained at one allegation.

As a way to raise awareness of these issues, the college holds a mandatory presentation titled “Fundamentals for Freshmen” at the beginning of each school year.  However, this presentation may not have been as effective as intended, especially with its newly employed skits which depicted scenarios of sexual assault.

“They took comedy as a part of it, and it did help in a way because it got people to relate to them, but it also took away from it being a serious topic,” said Jennifer Bueti, a freshman who attended the presentation.

According to senior Samantha Roth, the information provided in the presentation might be more effective if it was reinforced yearly.

“It doesn’t matter how old you get.  Sexual assault is always going to be prevalent in every grade,” she said.

The campus provides many resources for victims of sexual assault.  These include confidential resources such as the campus chaplain, counseling center and Health Services Office and non-confidential resources such as the Office of the Dean of Students, Office of Residence Life and the Office of Public Safety, among others.

But according to Bueti, these resources were almost given as an afterthought during the presentation.

“They did [it] at the end because it was a requirement.  They were like, ‘oh, by the way, in your school, this is where this is.  Thanks for listening, bye,’” she said.

Some of the college’s resources have a limited engagement.  The Health Services office and the Counseling Center are only open on weekdays.

In contrast, Fordham University’s Health Center provides office hours for its students seven days a week.  Fordham also provides 24-hour emergency medical services to students on the Rose Hill campus seven days a week.

According to a study done by the U.S Department of Justice titled “The Campus Sexual Assault Study”, sexual assaults were most likely to occur between September and November, on Friday and Saturday nights between the hours of midnight and 6:00 a.m.

MC students can seek help off-campus at the 50th Precinct of the New York City Police Department (non-confidential) and at the North Central Bronx Hospital (confidential).

MC’s resources should not be viewed as all-encompassing for victims of such crimes, as the college’s Health Services office does not provide rape kits.  This was confirmed by the college’s Counseling Center, as well as senior student Alannah Boyle.

Though she was not a victim of a crime which would merit a rape kit, Boyle once visited the Health Services office and asked for one.  She was then told that Health Services did not provide this service. Boyle did this in order to understand the resources provided by the campus.

“I wasn’t trying to create any controversy, I just was trying to find out the information, and the only way I was really able to do that was to go to Health Services and ask for information about whether or not they did it,” Boyle said.

A “rape kit” is a forensic exam used to collect DNA evidence from a victim’s clothes and body following a sexual assault.  The exam is time-consuming, but can be instrumental in determining the crime’s perpetrator.

While Health Services does not provide rape kits, it does conduct other services a victim might want, such as STD and pregnancy testing.

Rape kits can be obtained off-campus at the North Bronx Central Hospital, which has a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) unit.  The college can provide transportation to this hospital should the victim request it.

“SARTs combine medicine, law enforcement and victim advocacy to ensure that sexual assault victims receive appropriate medical attention, emotional support and referral information,” said Amy Dall, the assistant director for health services at MC.

When asked about the lack of this service on campus, some of MC’s female students were upset and confused.

“That infuriates a lot of people that I know, and I was shocked when I heard that,” Bueti said.

“If we’re paying $56,000 a year to go here and have health services, we should be afforded all of the health services that are needed,” Roth said.

However, Boyle said that the school’s inability to provide rape kits could stem from a lack of practical resources.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea if a school doesn’t have the space or the ability to do something really well,” Boyle said.  “We live in New York City and there’s phenomenal places within a five minute drive from here that do provide services.  So partnering with them is probably a more pragmatic solution.”

Assistant Vice President for Human Resources and Title IX Coordinator Vicki Cowan urged all students to familiarize themselves with the college’s sexual assault procedures, which can be found on the college’s website.

“The campus community is encouraged to take advantage of educational training offered by the college and to familiarize themselves with our policies and procedures,” she said.

Boyle believes that Cowan has been instrumental in communicating the availability of the school’s resources for sexual assault victims.

“I think that she’s done a very great job in working with students, personally, in talking to me about […] what I saw on campus and helping me to better understand the process of how things work on campus and why the policies are in place and how they’re in place to protect students,” Boyle said.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.  With this statistic in mind, Resident Director Ron Jovi Ramirez said that it was “very likely that some violations were not reported” to the college.

“Even if the availability is there, we’re still going to have that problem where women or men aren’t going to feel comfortable enough to use those facilities,” Roth said.

To Ramirez, the solution to the issue of campus sexual assault can begin with students raising awareness on campus.

“To be more aware of these violations occurring, the campus must be a community and look out for one another. Being an active bystander can help to prevent a possibility of these crimes to occur on this campus,” he said.

Ramirez is also a certified trainer for the college’s Green Dot program, which serves to empower bystanders when they witness “power-based personal violence”.

“As active bystanders, we can help each other out when we see something that we do not feel right about, and it can help promote the culture here on campus that these violations and actions are not allowed and will not be tolerated here,” he said.