Editorial: Sexual assault awareness
However, Princeton chose to refrain from publishing this data, and the survey remained hidden from the public eye until The Daily Princetonian uncovered the report this past Monday. In the article, one administrator claimed that the University did not want to draw unwanted attention to the findings, which are slightly lower than the national estimate that one in five women are raped during their college careers.
The University’s failure to publish the data set is highly irresponsible: The Princeton community deserves and needs to know about the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. Most importantly, publicizing this uncomfortable information both empowers survivors to speak out and increases the efficacy of prevention programs.
We are happy to note that many resources exist on campus to promote sexual well-being and awareness: The Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources, and Education program works with a number of other campus groups to prevent sexual violence and provide supports for survivors. Partly as a result of their efforts, Princeton is consistently rated a “sexually healthy” school. Moreover, with the aim of increasing bystander awareness and intervention, SHARE is now undertaking a campaign to inform the community that one in eight Princeton students are survivors of “power-based personal violence.”
Despite these laudable efforts, discussion of sexual violence remains taboo. Princeton is certainly exceptional in a number of ways, making it is easy to assume a problem like sexual assault “does not happen here.” Yet even in our ivory tower, sexual assault occurs. It is important to acknowledge that Princeton is part of and contributes to the national figures. We are no exception.
Publishing the survey calls attention to and meaningfully increases campus discourse on the sensitive topic of sexual assault. Indeed, the ‘Prince’ article uncovering the survey has received over 200 comments since its publication last Monday. Increased consciousness of sexual assault as a problem at Princeton has a number of meaningful benefits.
First and foremost, figures like these may help survivors come to terms with the traumatic experience of sexual assault. Many studies find that survivors of sexual assault typically report feelings of shock, fear, embarrassment or even guilt that prevent them from reaching out for help or contacting authorities. The public release of these figures indicates to survivors that they are not alone, increasing the probability that they will seek assistance from one of the campus groups that are trained to provide support. Moreover, by making bystanders more aware of the scope of the sexual assault problem, publicly releasing the data may contribute to an atmosphere in which bystanders intervene to prevent sexual assault.
Releasing the numbers also empowers survivors to step forward to authorities. Currently, no records are kept of the number of sexual misconduct cases brought before the Committee on Discipline. But we do know that between 2006 and 2009 — the years the survey was conducted — the COD only ruled on four of such cases. This low figure suggests that most students who are sexually assaulted are not pursuing the issue with the University administration. By monitoring and publicly releasing data on sexual assaults at Princeton, members of the administration would be signaling that the issue concerns them and that they are taking steps to improve sexual safety on campus. Knowledge of such an institutional commitment would likely make survivors more willing to bring their case before University authorities.
While selection biases and polling imprecision make it difficult to obtain a precise estimate of the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, the fact that one in six female students reported experiencing non-consensual vaginal penetration at the University suggests that sexual assault and harassment are significant problems on our campus. The Princeton community has a right to know this sort of information, and, in the future, the University should demonstrate a commitment to survivor safety first and reputation second.
Zach Horton ’15 abstains, and Brandon Holt ’15 recuses.
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