Sexual harassment deserves zero tolerance punishments

At the beginning of the semester, you probably took something called “sexual harassment training.” Student workers, University 1010 students and faculty are required to read some information and to take a short test to prepare for sexual harassment issues.Some of us at Tech apparently didn’t read that information very carefully.

According to a study done this year by The New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, one in four college women will be a victim of sexual assault in her college career. Unfortunately, Tech is not an exception.

Though I feel safe on campus and have never thought twice about sexual harassment here, recently three young women have admitted to me that they have experienced here what absolutely qualify as sexual harassment or assault.

Because of the sensitive nature of their stories, I have chosen not identify them by name.

The broad list of acts described on Tech’s website that could qualify as sexual harassment doesn’t mention any specific punishment for perpetrators or how reports will be handled. It states that there will be a punishment which could be expulsion.

One female student I spoke to about her case said the young men responsible for her discomfort were emailed and told to apologize to the teacher for disrupting class.

That’s all. One email somehow is an appropriate punishment for a malicious act of a sexual nature against another student.

This was not a simple dirty joke. This was verbal abuse, which created a hostile environment in which the victim must still see the offending individuals every day. Sexual harassment shouldn’t be another problem to worry about while in college.

And is there any question why some victims don’t want to come forward with their reports when they see that nothing is done?

Colleges, Tech included, don’t want a lot of attention for violent crimes. It’s obvious that if parents hear about students getting harassed or raped at a particular school, they won’t want to send their children there. The problem is that a reputation is not as important as the safety of students. Issues concerning violence, bullying or sexual assault should be handled for the welfare of the students, not the image of the school.

A sophomore I have known personally since my first week of college reported a serious incident after being persued by a Resident Advisor. Many times sexual harassment occurs between acquaintances or people considered to be friends. Her case is so recent, the procedure Tech will use for handling her physical assault is not yet clear.

I had the understanding Tech had a zero tolerance policy for violence and sexual abuse, but apparently it depends on the specific situation. The most appalling part of these personal accounts I have heard from classmates is the fact that both students still have to sit in a class by the people who sexually harassed them. This contributes to a hostile learning environment and adds to the anxiety of the victims.

Though Tech seems to have less crime on campus, that doesn’t mean harassment situations shouldn’t be examined or that the crimes committed should be treated less seriously.

Many times it is difficult for victims to report and speak out against their harasser due to embarrassment or fear. The biggest problem with not filling a report is that the person responsible can sexually abuse another person and potentially get away with it.

The third student I spoke to about her assault never reported her abuse. Despite friends trying to persuade her, she was worried about her reputation and her parents finding out. So her story, which is by far the most violent among the three women I spoke to, goes without investigation, and the perpetrator is free to commit the act on another individual.

If you believe you might have been the victim of sexual harassment by a student or teacher, you probably were.

Of course, some people are more easily offended, but if a physical or verbal sexual behavior is directed towards you that leads to a hostile learning environment or makes you feel unsafe, don’t keep it to yourself. Report the incident to protect yourself and your follow students.

Unreported cases are one reason universities do not react to sexual violence as seriously as they should. If you live in a dorm, tell your RAs, and they’ll help you file a report. If you live off campus, you can tell a trusted friend or mentor. A lot of victims don’t want anyone to know, and that is understandable. But your report is confidential, and your voice is needed to reduce sexual harassment on campus.