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‘We must do better’ on sexual violence

To the editor:

As a nurse at a local college, I have been following your four-part series, “Assaults in Academia,” with great interest. It is an insightful depiction of the sexual violence that affects the well-being of our Five College community. The Northwestern District Attorney’s office, President Carolyn Martin of Amherst College and Rebecca Lockwood and Maxene Anderson of the University of Massachusetts and their colleagues are to be commended for their candor and dedication to creating positive change.

It is important to note that specially trained sexual assault Nurse examiners provide care at the University Health Services at UMass, Cooley Dickinson, Wing Memorial, Mercy, and Baystate medical centers 24 hours a day.

As your series highlights, most assaults are committed by people known, at least briefly, to their victims and survivors. Most prevention efforts and safety training focus on self-defense against random, stranger rape. Victim-blaming and myths regarding the nature of rape and consent are common. A lack of faith in our willingness and ability to believe and support survivors contributes to the underreporting of sexual assault.

I urge my colleagues in our academic community to consider the magnitude of interpersonal violence in our society: The CDC reports that one in two women and one in four men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. We must not minimize these crimes as “drunken escapades” or “just date rape” that happens when “kids will be kids.”

Engaged bystander intervention shows great promise in creating a safe, supportive and respectful campus culture. As professionals, we can and must do better.

Our roles as educators are an opportunity to create change. Institutional policy does not preclude individual action: We can each set examples and standards of acceptable respectful, compassionate behavior in our classrooms and departments. We can discuss and dispel myths. We can watch, listen and report. We can believe and we can refer.

We can be the change worthy of our fine academic institutions — the change our students deserve.

Thank you for this important series.

Kerry-Beth Garvey

Florence

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