Between the Lines: UMass, Adopt A Rape Survivors Bill of Rights

While interviewing organizers of student-led college activist groups at UMass Amherst, Smith College, and Amherst College, I learned about the Coalition to End Rape Culture (CERC) at UMass , a campus group founded by survivors of sexual assault that is calling on the university to implement better policies to support victims of intimate violence.

The Coalition to End Rape, alongside other groups such as Carry That Weight, Know Your IX, and the United States Student Association, created a Survivor Bill of Rights that is essentially a list of demands for UMass administrators, that includes having all university administrators, faculty, staff, as well as leaders of registered student organizations, fraternities, and sororities educated on sexual assault policies and how to properly handle reports of sexual assault, violence, and rape. In short form, the bill of rights asks that …

Accuser and accused must have the same opportunity to have others present.

Both parties shall be informed of the outcome of any disciplinary proceeding.

Survivors shall be informed of their options to notify law enforcement.

Survivors shall be notified of counseling services.

Survivors shall be notified of options for changing academic and living situations.

In December 2015, CERC hosted a rally where more than 50 students were in attendance, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette. The group planned to present a copy of the Survivor Bill of Rights and a petition calling for the survivor rights bill to be implemented with hundreds of signatures to UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, but he wasn’t at his office. In April 2016, CERC brought its request for better treatment of sexual assault survivors to the UMass Board of Trustees. A response from the board is under consideration.

UMass did not respond to requests for an interview before press time.

CERC Co-President Haley Cramer says UMass Amherst officials have not adopted the Survivor Bill of Rights.

CERC’s demands aren’t unreasonable and deserve more recognition from UMass. The statistics surrounding college rape are pitiful. A total of 11.2 percent of U.S. college students will experience rape or sexual assault during their education, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.

Rape culture is a problem across the country, especially in regards to high profile cases of athletes receiving inadequate sentences for crimes of sexual assault or rape, such as Brock Turner, the Stanford University swimmer who was sentenced to just six months in jail in March 2016 on a sexual assault conviction.

Instances such as these aren’t isolated, they’re happening locally, too. One example of this can be found in the Hampden County suburban community of East Longmeadow in 2016. David Becker, a high school athlete who sexually assaulted an unconscious classmate received two years probation.

When sexual predators and rapists are given lenient sentences, it just reinforces what many already perceive about society — the systems in place are rigged in favor of white males and justice for victims of sexual assault is less a priority than making sure the white male perpetrator doesn’t have his life ruined. That’s a mockery of what our criminal justice system should be.

CERC should continue its efforts to engage in dialogue with administrative officials at UMass, who in turn should be more open to meeting with students to find ways to better support sexual assault victims. It’s understandable if the university wants to discuss and edit CERC’s requests, but some positive change when it comes to supporting victims of sexual violence will always be — to coin a phrase — morally opulent.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@valleyadvocate.com.

Author: Chris Goudreau

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