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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Reported sexual assaults increase on campus

Published: January 24, 2014
Section: Front Page, News

Brandeis University police are currently investigating five separate cases of harassment, assault and sexual violence crimes that occurred on and off campus and were reported to the department for further review. Prior to students leaving for winter break in the beginning of December, the public safety media log listed an investigation into acts of harassment, assault and a sex crime of forcible fondling. Last week, on Jan. 13 and 14, there were two more sex crimes reported, one of forcible sodomy and one of rape by force, both occurring on campus.

According to Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan, no arrests have been made to date. When incidents occur off-campus involving Brandeis students, Waltham police notify Brandeis police, and occasionally, Waltham police will ask for their assistance depending on the circumstances. Callahan says the role of the Brandeis police is to protect the safety of all members of the community and to help students bring more attention to their cases.

“The university police are here to assist students and advise of their options in filing a Community Standards Report/University judicial referral and/or a criminal complaint depending upon the incident which has occurred,” Callahan said. “It is disturbing when crime occurs. Students should feel comfortable talking with their Community Living Coordinators and other campus mentors who work with the university police.”

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed a memorandum creating a task force to respond to campus rapes. He spoke about the college sexual assault epidemic and how it is often concealed, as many sexual assaults go unreported.

Callahan believes that the increasing number of reports is indicative of a higher number of students coming forward and feeling comfortable to report incidents.

This is a trend that Sheila McMahon, Brandeis’ sexual assault and prevention specialist, says is a positive shift for the university.

“It’s not uncommon when services are advertised and put in place that rates of reporting go up,” McMahon says. “It’s a good thing. You want people to be able come forward.”

The statistics shown to the public, McMahon believes, are sometimes deceiving. According to a study from 2002 by a team of scientific researchers at UMass Boston and Brown University School of Medicine, between 64 and 96 percent of all rapes are never reported to criminal justice authorities.

“We have here five reported cases in two months, which only means five people chose to come forward in that time,” McMahon said. “So it’s actually very helpful when people come forward because more reports means that we can see what the similarities and differences are from other college campuses, and from there we can make our students feel safe.”

Other members of the Brandeis community agree with McMahon’s thinking. Victoria Jonas ’15 says the increasing number of reports is indicative of a cultural shift that’s currently happening at Brandeis.

“People are talking about this more because they feel safer using the reporting systems,” Jonas, who is currently interning at the Department of Public Health under the Sexual Assault Prevention and Survivors unit, said. “They see how the special examiner’s system and how the police system have been taking action on campus and this, in turn, makes people feel safer in reporting their own experiences.”

Jonas remarked that Brandeis not only has a legal obligation to protect the safety of students, but also that the administration should recognize this responsibility as something broader than that.

“If one person doesn’t feel safe, that will spread really quickly,” Jonas said.

Jonas said although there has been a shift in our culture in talking about these issues, the work isn’t over, and Brandeis has a responsibility and obligation to respond to these allegations in a timely and appropriate manner.

According to McMahon, the Sexual Assault services and prevention work closely with Brandeis police. When students file a report to public safety, they will offer McMahon’s name as a resource, and she says that many students come to see her.

“My job is to accompany them and give them coping skills. I also offer ongoing resources for them that may be helpful, whether it be academic services or psychological services, I offer a way for them to figure out what to do in the aftermath,” McMahon said.

McMahon, who joined Brandeis in November, said that she’s also currently working on a bystander prevention initiative that she hopes will be up and running this spring.

“The goal is to get people on the look out,” she said. “We want to train people to know what to look out for so they can prevent assault from happening in the future.”

In addition to Brandeis public safety, students can also seek help from services such as Community Living, the ICC, Student Activities, the dean of student life, Student Rights and Community Standards, Public Safety, Community Service, the Health and Psychological Counseling Center, the chaplains and the Title IX coordinator.