Editorial: Transparency needed to curb sexual assault

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Editorial: Transparency needed to curb sexual assault

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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The White House is right. It’s on us — all of us — to solve the issue of sexual assault.

Pitt voluntarily joined the national movement against rape culture last spring, when it and 27 other universities participated in a survey of student attitudes and experiences regarding sexual violence and harassment.

The Campus Climate Survey, conducted by the Association of American Universities, released its final national results yesterday.

Following suit, Pitt released our campus’ results shortly after. Upon opening your Pitt email yesterday, you probably saw a detailed and urgent response to the report entitled “Sexual Violence on campus,” from our own Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. The promptness Pitt displayed in getting this information — and all of this information, even the parts that didn’t make us look too great — to us is extremely admirable, but as Gallagher wrote, the AAU report illustrates “a sobering story.”

Here’s why.

Extrapolating the survey’s results to Pitt’s enrollment would show that of the about 18,000 undergraduate students, 16.3 percent had experienced sexual assault at Pitt — equating to 2,934 students.

According to the report, 10.1 percent of female undergraduates have “experienced nonconsensual penetration involving force or incapacitation since entering the University of Pittsburgh,” while 15.6 percent of female undergraduates have experienced nonconsensual “sexual touching” of some kind during college. Undergraduate males surveyed at 2 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

This is not an individual problem, it is a campus problem.

The sheer number of students who reported experiencing sexual assault in the survey is surprising because the majority of victims did not report these instances to the University in the first place.

Sixty-two percent of the victims of penetrative acts involving force never reported the incident because they didn’t think it was serious enough. Another 60 percent said they never reported the incident because they felt embarrassed, ashamed or thought it would be “too emotionally difficult.”

In the eyes of the victims of sexual assault, our campus atmosphere is not sensitive or supportive enough for them to seek help.

Pitt’s participation in this report provides us with the information required to ignite action. It will be an uphill battle, and as the Chancellor acknowledged, “the survey results make clear that we have much more work to do.”

We must combat the current factors blocking victims from reporting abuse — mainly, shame and embarrassment.

We can achieve this by making students more aware of Pitt’s Crisis Hot line. Pitt currently provides 24-hour sexual assault help over the phone — students can reach the service by contacting Campus Police at 412-624-2121.

Once contacted, a sexual assault services specialist of the counseling center will provide confidential assistance to the victim. It is essential that student’s know that there is a way to receive help, confidentially, if they experience sexual assault — as this will potentially eliminate any concerns of privacy victims may have.

Overall, we ask that the University continues to be transparent in its efforts to combat sexual assault — this report is an important first step. But if our goal is “zero incidents of sexual harassment and violence at Pitt,” as Gallagher said, continued transparency is essential.

A previous version of this Editorial claimed that the University does not provide a 24-hour confidential hotline for victims of sexual assault. That was false, the University does currently provide this service through a 24-hour crisis hotline. The Pitt News regrets this error

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