Last Monday, an email was sent to all UConn students from Susan Herbst discussing the impact of the recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh into the Supreme Court. In the email, she expressed the importance of supporting victims of sexual assault by saying, “what should not be lost during this or any debate is the terrible impact and lifelong trauma sexual assault has on its survivors. Nor should we lose sight of the primacy of their voices and the chronic diminishment of their experiences in this country and across the world.” This sends a powerful message that UConn is striving to provide a safe and encouraging environment for student victims to come forward and report incidents of sexual assault, and, by doing so, enhancing campus safety and downtrending sexual assaults on campus.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) “for every 1,000 rapes, 994 will go unpunished.” It is uncommon for sexual assailants to be brought to justice in today’s judicial system. The role the legal system can play, or fail to play, in punishing such attackers recently shocked many Americans as Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court despite allegations of sexual assault against him. This confirmation sent the message that sexual assault is not a punishable behavior and failed to disincentivize assailants from committing acts of sexual violence. However, it strongly disincentivized victims from reporting incidents. Following Dr. Blasey Ford’s lack of influence on the confirmation, Herbst recognized the disempowering impact this may have on victims and offered a safe and encouraging platform for discussion to promote the reporting of sexual assault on campus. This is the most effective approach to the growing concern about sexual assault as a threat to campus safety.
For college students, it is the duty of the university administration to encourage reporting as well as consequences for sexual assailants, as that will disincentivize attackers. In doing so, the university needs to show support of victims and provide them with support in accordance with their needs. President Herbst’s message to UConn students did precisely that: it made students feel that the university is here to support them if they were to fall victim to sexual assault and that they would have an encouraging environment when coming forward to share their stories.
Keren Blaunstein is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.