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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Sexual Assault Task Force Advocates More Bystander Training


Madeline Charbonneau is a staff writer for The Hoya.

The university’s Sexual Assault and Misconduct Task Force advocated for expanded mandatory bystander education and training for all undergraduate and graduate students and finalized the 11 recommendations it made last April to improve sexual misconduct prevention and survivor support, Tuesday.

The task force’s discussion at a forum in the Healey Family Social Room came in the wake of new sexual assault guidelines issued by the Department of Education last Thursday, which include the rollback of former Barack Obama’s proactive sexual assault guidelines for universities.

The final report builds off the 11 conclusions announced in April, including mandatory sexual misconduct and relationship education courses for first-year students, a possible mandatory first-year seminar and urge new online intensive bystander intervention training for both undergraduate and graduate students, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson.

The report also indicated engagement with student group leadership to promote open club culture, sexual assault prevention training for all professional faculty and staff, public awareness campaigns and additional staffing of Health Education Services.

According to the task force, exclusive club culture at Georgetown is one of the causes of sexual misconduct on campus. The finding from five focus group surveys conducted within the past year point to “partying” culture and alcohol consumption that facilitates sexual assault.

The university will continue to research possible connections between campus club culture and power differentials and sexual misconduct, Laura Cutway, the university’s full-time Title IX Coordinator, said.

Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olsen said first-year students will be the first class to go through mandatory “Bringing in the Bystander” training.

“The new intensive ‘Bringing in the Bystander’ program is the heart of what’s new, and all first-year students are going through that this fall semester,” Olson said.

For faculty and staff, the training programs are targeted toward reporting and responding to students when they reach out for help, Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Rosemary Kilkenny (LAW ’87) said.

“It is very important for the faculty and staff to be well-versed and be well-trained in what resources and what their reporting obligations are in the event that a student decides to take them into their confidence,” Kilkenny said. “We are going to have a very focused attention on their reporting obligations.”

Following Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ announcement last week of her intention to roll back Obama-era sexual assault policies for univerisities, Kilkenny reaffirmed the university’s intentions to continue its commitment to the safety of its students.

“Regardless of what the Department of Education does, we want to take the opportunity tonight to let you all know that the university is very committed to eradicating sexual misconduct, sexual assault and sexual harassment,” Kilkenny said.

Kilkenny said the university will be conducting further research using focus groups and periodical climate surveys to research the causes of sexual misconduct on campus.

“The results of the climate survey clearly show that Georgetown University has a very high incidence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct,” Kilkenny said. “As a result of that we were really curious to find out what it is about our culture that has resulted in this incidence being as high as it is.”

Established by University President John J. DeGioia last spring, the task force advised the administration to coordinate with the Georgetown University Police Department and improve the relationship between mandatory reporters and students through cultural awareness training and privacy guarantees.

The establishment of the task force came on the heels of the results of the 2016 sexual assault climate survey, which indicated that nearly one in three females and one in 10 males at Georgetown have experienced some sort of non-consensual sexual contact.

Since June 2016, the task force, led by Kilkenny and Olson and students who served on the university’s sexual assault working group , has been gathering information from focus groups and compiling recommendations on how the university should proceed.

GUPD officers should also receive additional training, Cutway said. Sexual Assault Response Team officers will receive more intensive training, while all other officers will receive a baseline training in handling instances of sexual violence.

“We’re looking at deeper training for [SART] officers. They already go through a 40-hour training, but we’re looking at increasing their trainings on specific topics, say vulnerable populations and stalking and relationship violence,” Cutway said. “The other piece of the training for GUPD is training all officers, not just the SART officers, so that all officers have a minimum of eight hours of training.”

The Office of Student Conduct will also be making changes to make the misconduct reporting process more transparent and to strengthen accountability, Olson said.

“Two of the important ideas that were generated by students and through conversation were to increase transparency of student conduct processes through an online tracking capability that we’re developing in our new system now,” Olson said. “And the second piece around student conduct was around accountability for how cases are handled, especially these very important cases around sexual misconduct.”

According to Olson, the Disciplinary Review Committee operating under the Office of Student Conduct, which had previously looked at student conduct policies, will take on an expanded role to evaluate how misconduct cases are handled beyond just policy issues.

The university will also be prioritizing the expansion of Health Education Services, which supports victims of sexual misconduct in dealing with the emotional stresses and reporting process following an incident. Olson said one full-time position will be added to the department.

“The one department that is at the center of a lot of our efforts is Health Education Services and one of the things that was an important priority through this planning process was to strengthen the professional staffing in Health Education in order to do program work, educational work, outreach work and to provide direct clinical services and support for students,” Olson said.

Other recommendations from the task force involve building academic specialization on campus to research sexual misconduct both on Georgetown’s campus and nationwide, adding funding for public awareness campaigns, and establishing a Coordinated Community Response Team to take over the work of the task force.

“We want to be very aggressive in providing resources, especially for survivors of sexual assault and sexual misconduct,” Kilkenny said.

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