Thursday, Jun 20th

Last updateWed, 19 Jun 2019 10pm

You are here: Home Schools Sexual Violence on Campus: What Students and Parents Need to Know
first
  
last
 
 
start
stop
first
  
last
 
 
start
stop

Sexual Violence on Campus: What Students and Parents Need to Know

consentIf you ask a graduating high school senior what their concerns are about college, you might expect to hear things like choosing classes, finding friends, or leaving home. But these days, some incoming college students are worrying about a far darker issue. With the emergence of the #MeToo movement in the past two years, the world has becoming increasingly aware of the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses.

On Thursday night, May 2, students and parents were invited to the high school to discuss these issues. The panel included Scarsdale High School Principal Ken Bonamo, Assistant District Attorney Laura Murphy, Chief of Police Andrew Matturro, and Vassar College Safety Director Arlene Sabo. Overall, the night was informative and eye-opening for both students and parents.

First to speak was Principal Ken Bonamo who has been the principal of SHS since 2012, and previously worked in New York City schools. He said, “I think that this topic represents an intersection of wellness and curriculum,” he remarked. The issues of consent and sexual violence affect a student both in high school and beyond. It is the school’s responsibility to take action, both because it is where students receive their education, and because the safety and wellness of students should be a school’s first priority. Bonamo then went on to discuss how Scarsdale High School does its part, describing a “comprehensive approach that includes and impacts students in all grade levels”.

In ninth grade, students are first brought into a discussion about sexual assault with a grade-wide assembly. Older students involved in the drama club perform a skit for the freshman class that depicts unhealthy relationships, and how social media and alcohol can play a part in them. After the show, the actors run a Q&A with the audience, debriefing the skit, and touching on the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships. In tenth grade, students are mandated to take the health course, where there is emphasis on consent, decision making, healthy relationships, and sexual health. The next year, juniors are placed in consent workshops with a small group of peers. They discuss how to prevent sexual assault, dynamics of power and control in relationships, and how alcohol can affect consent. Finally, on one of the seniors’ last days, they are broken up into groups by their dean and have the opportunity to speak with current college students about what life will be like in their next four years. Bonamo noted that this is effective because it’s “young people talking to one another, rather than adults talking to young people”.

Overall, Bonamo emphasized that his goal is to create a common language shared between students, parents, faculty, and the community as a whole. He shared that students are more likely to discuss these topics and issues at school rather than at home where it may be uncomfortable, so “it really is important that we, as a school, give parents and students language to have these discussions in the home”.

Next to speak was, Assistant District Attorney Laura Murphy. Murphy comes to the table with both the perspective of a prosecutor and the perspective of a mother. She began by warning the audience that the number one date rape drug is actually alcohol. “The amount of crimes that involve alcohol are amazing,” she said. Alcohol may not seem like it’s that bad, but it serious impairs your judgment, decision making skills, and ability to give consent. She then delved deeper into the idea of consent, reminding parents to “educate, educate, educate your sons about consent”. Murphy explained the intricacies of what legally constitutes consent. In New York State, anyone who is physically helpless is unable to give consent and having sex with someone who is physically helpless is regarded as the same as a forced sexual attack. Anyone found guilty of this is sentenced of a minimum of five years in prison.

Murphy discussed ways to be proactive, to prevent sexual assault against yourself and others. Murphy encouraged anyone involved in a tricky situation that may involve sexual assault to just walk away. Accomplice liability, she mentioned, means that “you guys can get into trouble for something that somebody else does”. If your roommate assaults someone, for example, and you watch the door for them, or help them cover up, or aid them in any way, you can still face the consequences even though you are not the perpetrator. For victims, Murphy says “I would encourage anyone to call their mom or call their dad”. Some students are afraid to call their parents, out of shame or embarrassment, or if they were drinking at the time and don’t want their parents to find out. Murphy reminded the audience that “Moms would rather you call them, they’ll forgive you”. Murphy’s last piece of advice was that “if it’s your friend, start by believing them. Start by saying ‘I believe you, let's figure out how to handle this’”.

Also on the panel was Scarsdale Chief of Police Andrew Matturro. Father of three girls, Matturro actually had a personal anecdote that he shared with the group. While out to dinner with her boyfriend and a few friends, Matturro’s eldest began to not feel well. She went to the bathroom, and her boyfriend, sensing that something was more than wrong, asked one of their friends to go with her. In the bathroom, Matturro’s daughter collapsed and was unconscious for three hours. When she was brought to the hospital, it was suspected that she had somehow been drugged. Matturro shared his story, which luckily didn’t end badly, just to show that anyone can be a victim, of drugging or of even more.

Matturro then went on to discuss the services that the Scarsdale Police Department provides for the community. He stated that the objectives of the SPD with regard to minors are to provide remedial resolution and divert kids away from the justice system, for positive effects in the future. He also talked about how the police department wants to be a resource, as opposed to a last resort, for kids in the community.

Last to speak was Arlene Sabo, Director of Safety and Security at Vassar College. With an extensive background in college campus security, Sabo had a lot to offer regarding rules and legislature. Sabo’s opening point was that as of 2011, “sexual harassment and sexual assault are to be considered sexual discrimination, extreme forms of it”, and therefore fall under the Title IX legislature. Because of this, there are a number of required protections and precautions that colleges must have in place. For instance, all complaints must be dealt with promptly to limit effects, there must be a designated Title IX officer and responsible, designated and trained employees on campus.

This definition can vary campus-to-campus; in one college, all supervisors may be identified as responsible employees, while in another college, this title may apply to all faculty. It is at the discretion of each institution to decide who fills this role. When these responsible employees are made aware of information about sexual misconduct, they are responsible for reporting all details to a Title IX coordinator. These coordinators release information on a need to know basis, and schools are required to provide interim measures for the safety of the student immediately.

Sabo explained that there are other laws in New York State that magnify and add to Title IX. These include Article 129-B, also known as “Enough is Enough”. This article provides a uniform definition of affirmative consent, an amnesty policy for anyone assaulted while illegally under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and mandates that a victim must be informed about their access to law enforcement. Additionally, the Clery Act includes sexual offenses.

Sabo concluded by offering tips on how to prevent sexual assault, and how to deal with it if it happens to you. She mentioned that many acts of sexual violence occur during the “Red Zone”; the period of time between the beginning of school and Thanksgiving break for incoming freshman. Sabo warned against “party punch”, a mix of many different types of alcohol that may be offered at parties. She recommends that a victim of assault should preserve and collect evidence, by not washing clothes, not showering, saving texts, taking screenshots of messages, finding any witnesses of the situation, and going to the hospital as soon as possible. While a student may not choose to pursue a legal consequence, following these steps may “preserve options” and leave doors open in the future.

Concluding the session, audience members were invited to ask questions and the speakers offered their last pieces of advice. Murphy reminded everyone that whether you are the victim or the accused, the best course of action is to immediately inform your parents “because they’re gonna get you the proper advice.”

Sabo made the point that “consent, or lack of consent, can happen between same sex couples, transgender individuals; it's not about gender identity, or gender orientations”. While this may be highlighted as a problem that commonly occurs male to female, it can happen between any two people.

One mother asked if a girl may not be completely sober but seems to be offering affirmative consent- “how is a young man supposed to be able to assess?” In this situation, Lauren Murphy says to “Educate your children to air on the side of caution”. While a person may seem only tipsy, and still sober enough to make decisions, it is always better to be safe than sorry. The dangerous repercussions surely outweigh one night of fun.

Finally, Ken Bonamo again emphasized the importance of communication at home. “Our children, our students are experiencing a different version of relationship building,” he reminded parents.

Hopefully, events like these will spark discussion, growth, and learning among the Scarsdale community.

Leave a Comment

Share on Myspace
first
  
last
 
 
start
stop