Higher Education Leaders Join Forces to Explore the National Crisis of Campus Sexual Assaults

The statistics on campus sexual assaults are alarming. It is estimated that in one year, 300,000 women in colleges and universities are raped. Additionally, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, 95 percent of campus sexual assaults go unreported. The severity of this issue is irrefutable and as a result, college officials and legislators are getting involved.

Saint Peter’s took an active lead in addressing this issue by partnering with CarePoint Health Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving access to health, wellness and health education to the residents of Hudson County, N.J. The University worked with CarePoint to create a conference titled, “The Campus Accountability and Safety Act: Navigating Compliance Issues and the Challenges of Campus Sexual Assaults,” which was held at Saint Peter’s on October 7.

Government leaders and representatives from 28 colleges and universities across the state attended the event, which explored the current laws surrounding campus sexual assaults and how university leaders can prepare themselves to address this crisis.

“A conference like this is the first step in fostering a campus culture that refuses to tolerate campus sexual assaults,” said Eugene J. Cornacchia, Ph.D., president of Saint Peter’s University. “We designed this event to bring the higher education professionals together to discuss the implications of all of the various laws and federal regulations regarding campus sexual assaults and what we can do to prevent and address this crisis at our respective colleges and universities.”

While the conference was specifically focused on the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a bipartisan bill, which takes aim at sexual assaults on college campuses and requires schools to release data about campus attacks, a number of experts addressed this topic from a variety of angles.

Meika Roberson, M.D., chief medical officer at CarePoint Health Hoboken University Medical Center, shared the troubling story of a victim of campus sexual assault who faced a great deal of challenges in reporting the attack and continuing her education.

Robert D. Laurino, first assistant prosecutor for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, served as the keynote speaker for the event and he discussed his experience as the former director of the adult sex crimes unit. Laurino completed more than 100 jury trials and handled thousands of cases involving sexual violence.

The first panel featured Michelle Fine, Ph.D., distinguished professor of the CUNY Graduate Center as moderator and panelists: Ruth Anne Koenick, director of the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance at Rutgers University, and La’Shawn Rivera, director of sexual violence response and rape crisis/anti-violence support center at Columbia University.

Fine stressed the importance of creating a culture where victims feel comfortable enough to come forward. She also examined the issues with the reporting of incidents through the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. “A low Clery score doesn’t mean no sexual assaults are happening, it means the campus has a culture of intimidation,” she said.

The second panel included Kevin Callahan, J.D. ’69, professor of criminal justice at Saint Peter’s University and retired Hudson County Superior Court Judge, as moderator and panelists: Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the N.J. Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and Jackie Moran, director of compliance, student affairs and Title XI coordinator at Rutgers University.

Closing remarks were given by Wagatwe Wanjuki, a survivor, activist and writer who first learned the power of new media to lift the voices of the most marginalized while campaigning to reform the sexual assault policy as a student at Tufts University.

The program with CarePoint Health Foundation was developed following a prior successful initiative between Saint Peter’s and CarePoint, which addressed the issue of human trafficking.  Furthermore the CarePoint Health Christ Hospital in Jersey City is the designated sexual assault victim crisis center for Hudson County. CarePoint Health Foundation Vice President Paula Nevoso took the stage to share the point that any parent should take an interest in this issue. “As a mother of two, I think we have an obligation to keep our students secure,” she said.