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BU establishes center to prevent and respond to sexual assault

Posted by Your Town  October 24, 2012 11:21 AM

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In light of last spring’s highly publicized sexual assault cases, Boston University has established a center dedicated to preventing and responding to sexual assault on campus.

Although the university would not disclose how many students have used the center to date, center officials said that about 1,100 students have completed the “bystander intervention program,” which teaches students what to do if they witness or experience an assault.

“Changing a culture takes a lot of time, and BU is a culture within a larger culture,” said Maureen Mahoney, director of the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center at BU. “We are really hopeful.”

The number to reach the center is 617-353-7277.

This spring, Boston University President Robert A. Brown announced plans to establish a center that focused solely on sexual assault.

“In creating this center, Boston University is proving its commitment to student safety and well being and is a true leader among higher education institutions,” the university said in a statement.

According to the release, advocates for the center started an online petition, which was signed by a total of 1,214 people.

Mahoney said the idea for a center devoted to sexual assault response and prevention was supported by the president’s office, the dean of student’s office, and a proposal drafted by the Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism at BU.

“It was recognized that with the amount of students that were coming to us, that maybe [sexual assault response and prevention] should be an area that we focused on,” Mahoney said.

In March, Brown named a task force to review the hockey program, after two players were charged with sexual assault.

In September, the panel concluded that there is a “culture of sexual entitlement” among some members of the men’s hockey team.

“Their view of the world is that ‘I’ve been drafted. I’m chosen. I’m one of the 5 percent,’ ” Brown told the Globe. “We’ve got to break open that culture and bring them back into the university.”

Mahoney said she and her staff are hopeful the program will combat sexual assault at BU.

“Research shows that if one person standing by tends to become engaged or involved [after witnessing abuse], other people will follow,” she said.

Mahoney said that before the center, if a student had been raped or assaulted, he or she would have to leave a message with health services and an on-call social worker would be notified. Now, students can immediately connect with the on-call person.

“It provides immediate access, it’s a lot quicker,” Mahoney said. “It cuts out the unnecessary step in explaining why you’re calling.”

Mahoney, who is also a clinical specialist for the center, said the services are confidential and free of charge. She and her staff primarily assist students who have been the victims of sexual trauma and rape; the staff members include two other clinical specialists as well as a nonclinical “health and prevention educator,” who specializes in violence prevention among student athletes.

Mahoney said it is unclear whether the center has made any immediate impact, but she is confident that the climate at BU will get better with time.

“I think any change is going to be gradual,” she said.

Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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