Survivors Discuss Hillary Clinton's Plan to Combat Sexual Assault On College Campuses
At a campaign event at the University of Northern Iowa last week, Hillary Clinton became the first presidential hopeful to announce policy plans for combating sexual assault on college campuses.
"It is not enough to condemn campus sexual assault," Clinton told students. "We need to end campus sexual assault." How exactly does she intend to do that? And what do women who've experienced this crime think about the specifics she's put forward? Glamour investigated.
Providing comprehensive resources
As Clinton noted, many students face a "maze of bureaucracy" when they report an assault. So, as the first tenet of her plan, Clinton intends to streamline the process for reporting an assault, carrying out legal action against an assailant, and seeking counseling.
Annie E. Clark, who was sexually assaulted while at the University of North Carolina and has since co-founded End Rape on Campus, praised this aspect of Clinton's plan. "We do need that clear policy — that students know, 'If I report here, this is what happens," she said.
Maya Weinstein, a senior at George Washington University, who experienced bureaucratic complication when reporting her own sexual assault, supports that measure as well. "I was fortunate enough to have people to direct me to the right place," she said. "I don't think I would have known where to go if I didn't happen to catch the right person."
Clinton's plan to make legal and mental health resources universal among all college campuses would benefit students who did not have access to them when dealing with the aftermath of an assault — students like Ti'Air Riggins, a second-year Ph.D. student at Purdue University who was assaulted during her first year of graduate school. "After seeking counseling and reporting him to the university, I sought other avenues to help me cope," Riggins said. "Unfortunately, Purdue did not have any advocacy groups at the time and still doesn't have a rape crisis center here on campus."
Through RAINN, Riggins was directed to a local mental health facility. She also founded an advocacy group on Purdue's campus: Students Against Rape And Violence (SARA V). "I want the group to serve as a support group for people who need it but also a liaison between students and the university to make sure all cases and evidence are handled appropriately," Riggins said. Under Clinton's plan, Riggins would not have had to create a support group herself — there would have been one for her. Providing this type of support would be a step forward for both students and universities.
Revising the judicial system
In addition to making reporting these crimes easier, Clinton plans to alter the judicial process to offer a fair course for both parties (the accuser and the accused) and ensure justice. In an interview with Refinery 29 published on Friday, Clinton discussed how legal proceedings often favor the accused. "There needs to be a decision in our country and on every college campus that any woman who reports an assault should be heard and believed," Clinton told Refinery29. "There should be a process that is in place — not made up every time that something like this happens — to examine what she is saying, to begin to hear from people to make some kind of decision that is viewed as fair to everybody."
"Right now the process isn't equal, and where it is mostly unequal is to the survivor," said Clark. She believes Clinton's plan to "make sure the process is fair is going to help both sides."
Weinstein agrees, calling out her own difficult, disjointed proceedings. "There was a lack of information and communication — that was the biggest challenge of my hearing — because the investigation and hearing took place over the summer," Weinstein said. "In my mind that was an excuse, but to [the university] it was a legitimate reason." Weinstein's hearing did not follow any established protocol. "[The hearing] was six hours long and the perpetrator wasn't even there," she said. "He was able to call in and I was under pressure to look and act a certain way because [the administration] could see me." Furthermore, she explained: "They let him present two witness statements — that turned out to be character testimonials — in the middle of the hearing. They were accepted without first being reviewed. I should have had them in advance so I could speak to everything in my opening statement."
Increasing early education
The final component of Clinton's proposal is to increase education on consent and sexual assault prevention, with emphasis on beginning this conversation at a younger age.
"Starting consent education in middle and high school is prevention in a way we haven't heard, and have not heard major leaders talk about it before," Clark said. "Having this conversation much earlier and talking about what consent is — that's something that excites me."
Weinstein concurred, saying: "We need to listen to each other and communicate about consent. [In doing this], you learn what a healthy sexual relationship looks like."
What still needs to be done
Though Clinton's proposal is a step in the right direction, these women conceded that additional measures need to be taken. Riggins said she "would like to see a step-by-step plan or list of action items [Clinton] plans on doing to see all three steps come into fruition."
Weinstein stressed the need for a policy with a more universal disciplinary process — particularly, by streamlining punitive measures so that they are the same throughout all colleges and universities. "Universities are their own worlds," Weinstein said. "There needs to be some kind of wide-scale discussion to get everyone on the same page and help to understand the goals and needs of all involved entities. Otherwise, it will just be one group stepping on another's toes." Weinstein also believes there needs to be a "better way to hold universities accountable" for years of mishandled cases.
Though receptive of Clinton's proposal, Clark spoke to broader issues regarding sexual assault that were not covered by the candidate. "The criminal justice system is a whole other mess we have to deal with," she said. "Even if you 'do everything right' — you go to hospital and go to police — there is still a rape kit backlog."
Clark hopes to see candidates on both sides address the problem of sexual assault on college campuses. (Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican hopeful, has advocated for advancements in the past by co-sponsoring Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Senator Clair McCaskill's (D-Mo,) Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a bill that Clinton built off of in her proposal.) "Violence isn't a partisan issue and I would really like to hear from other candidates on both the Democrat and Republican side," Clark said.
Though Clinton's outlined proposal makes valid points, it is just that — an outline. When asked to assign Clinton's plan a letter grade, Weinstein said that it needed more substance. "I would give her an Incomplete at this point," Weinstein said. "The ideas are there, the concept is good, the points are valid, but there's not much to grade as of this moment."
Weinstein hopes that this will change as we move into 2016: "As the campaigns continue, I could see her coming out with more of an action plan to show that she knows what she is talking about and that she really intends to make changes. Actions over words."
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it's not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org, y en español: rainn.org/es.
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