Sexual assault is indeed a hidden and significant problem on the UC Irvine campus, as it is on many campuses across the United States. It is important that we spend time examining the social contributions to the problem and raising awareness. The article ‘Number of Sexual Assault Cases Increase on Campus,’ which appeared in last week’s New University highlighted a number of important issues, and I would like to thank Ms. Emilie Doolittle for her advocacy and attention to a critical and under-examined issue in our community.
The article highlighted the assault that took place on May 3, 2007 in the Social Science Parking Structure at UCI. While this incident has deservedly grabbed the attention of our campus population, as Ms. Doolittle points out, this is not the only assault that this campus has seen this year. Since sexual assault is drawing attention through increased reporting to Campus Assault Resources and Education and the UCI Police Department, and because it is important to ensure the accurate reporting of such incidents and the way in which the University responds, the intention of this writing is to clarify some of the issues that were presented in the original article.
The Counseling and Health Services cluster and the Division of Student Affairs at UCI are committed to ensuring that our students receive services to promote the prevention of and healing from sexual assault. While it is true that CARE has changed its name and has only offered direct and ongoing counseling services over the past two years, the program itself was previously in existence under the Center for Women and Men. Upon the closure of this Center, resources were retained to ensure that a director be appointed to the sexual assault program and that some sort of prevention programming would continue on campus. Temporary resources for additional programming were also made available through the Office of the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Counseling and Health Services. Following an expansion of services, the Office saw a staggering 180-percent increase in campus utilization of CARE. These numbers speak to the need for such services on campus, and this fact is recognized by various campus entities. This recognition has led to recent funding through registration fees to provide for the hire of a violence prevention coordinator, and the department is currently under consideration for additional space that would allow it to better meet personnel and programming needs. As has been pointed out, these resources alone are insufficient for meeting the growing needs of the department for a campus of this size, but it is important to know that while we struggle to prevent sexual violence and serve its survivors, we are supported by others on the campus.
A second point that needs to be addressed is the claim that students are primarily seeking counseling services on campus for issues related to an assault experience. While this is certainly the case for CARE, as the primary resource for sexual assault services, this is not the case for the other centers that provide counseling services on campus. In fact, according to a recent survey of student experience at UCI, stress was indicated as the number one reason for seeking counseling services, followed by sleep deprivation, job responsibilities, emotional distress and family obligations.
Third, while we are seeing reports of sexual assault on our campus rising, many students are still not reporting. The reasons for non-reporting are complex and varied, and according to a survey conducted with UCI students in 2005, these reasons include: an inadequate number of qualified staff on campus, fear of reporting to official figures, confusion about where to file a report and an inability to discern the criminal nature and reportability of sexual assault. These factors influence student decision-making about reporting in addition to the important factors mentioned in the original article, including fear of retaliation, lack of evidence, embarrassment or confusion and fear of blame.
Finally, while CARE serves an important function as an individual unit on campus, it does not provide services in isolation of other departmental collaborations. Workshops, campus events, groups and individual case management are all accomplished through the successful collaboration of CARE with other campus departments and community entities. While the services provided through CARE are specialized and in need of expansion and additional staff, UCI is a progressive campus and community of people working together to achieve a safer community.
As a campus, we must communicate openly and loudly that none of us regard sexual violence as acceptable. We will work together to continue changing a culture that is all too often quietly tolerant of injustice, while supporting survivors and helping them to grow into strong and successful individuals.
Mandy Mount is the director of UCI Campus Assault Resources and Education.