Madison Polkowitz / Gavel Media

Sexual Assault and Alcohol Resources Increase Student Privacy

As of this fall, the Assistant Director of the Women’s Center, Rachel DiBella, and the SANet sexual assault support hotline will become two newly confidential resources at Boston College. This is to say that survivors who disclose a sexual assault in these venues can now be assured that nobody outside that conversation will know about their assault, unless the survivor so chooses.

In the past, DiBella—who receives disclosures of sexual assault made at the Women’s Center—and the SANet hotline were compelled to forward any information shared with them about an assault to the Title IX coordinator, after carefully attending to the students’ immediate needs.

Survivors always received a disclaimer that anything they disclosed would be reported upwards and, furthermore, survivors always dictated whether or not there would be an investigation, trial, or even a medical examination; but even still, policy dictated that information was to be meticulously and privately channeled to the Title IX coordinator.

Now, DiBella reiterates, students still have the option to send identifying information to the Title IX coordinator, BCPD and outside resources, but they are asked for their permission to do so beforehand. “This doesn't close the door on reporting to the Title IX Coordinator,” DiBella says. “It simply helps the survivor determine the timeline at which they would like to do so while still simultaneously seeking help and exploring options.”

This change in policy embodies the Women’s Center and SANet’s philosophy of empowering and restoring the agency of survivors. In an instance of sexual assault, a perpetrator denies the victim of their right to choose and robs them of control over their own body. Ideally, in the process of healing from an assault, a survivor should have their power and sense of control restored, as opposed to being corralled into either staying quiet, or aggressively pursuing legal retribution.

Well-meaning friends and advisors who insist on a “right” course of action without first asking, “How can I help you?” or “What would you like to do?”, bring a survivor right back to a place of powerlessness.

The shift in SANet and DiBella’s status to “confidential” reflects the objective of offering survivors a more comprehensive array of choices when making a disclosure; survivors can ultimately choose which resource on campus and which level of confidentiality best meet their needs.

“While we have always operated from a place of empowerment and endeavoring to restore the agency of all survivors of sexual assault and violence through our SANet Hotline,” DiBella says, “[Confidentiality] can add another dimension of comfort and reassurance to those who may be approaching the hotline as a first line of response in the midst of a crisis or trauma.”

While other resources on campus, like Resident Assistants and professors, remain “mandated reporters” (meaning they must report sexual assault disclosures to the Title IX coordinator), the purpose of their reporting is to hold the University responsible for the occurrences of sexual assault on campus, not to shepherd survivors into a conduct process that they have no interest in pursuing.

Each individual survivor may seek a different level of action and openness about their assault at any given time as they reckon with their experience. Like Chessy Prout, the survivor of an assault at St. Paul’s preparatory school who only released her identity to the public a full year after the trial, many survivors deem outspokenness as initially uncomfortable and unhelpful to their recovery, though they may later embrace it.

In the initial disclosure, different individuals vary widely in their preference for complete confidentiality, or for informing and acting immediately. Respecting this choice at the moment of a disclosure is a critical first step on the path to healing—something that is honored in BC’s new confidentiality policy.

In addition to changes in policy at the Women’s Center and SANet hotline, the Division of Student Affairs is introducing the ASAP Alcohol and Support Line: a resource that students can call without identifying themselves to seek guidance about drinking.

The overall Alcohol Screening And Prevention Initiative (ASAP) aims to help students make healthy and informed decisions about drinking, as well as to prepare mentor figures on campus to confidently have conversations with students about drinking. For a University-sanctioned initiative, ASAP’s mission is surprisingly non-punitive.

This distinct lack of a “bad cop” mentality is a response to recent Student Affairs focus group results, which confirmed that students avoided engaging with alcohol-related resources on campus for fear of being identified and targeted.

Thus, the ASAP support line was born: “Taking that real fear that students discussed, the idea was to create a resource that students can access 24/7 without having to identify who they are,” says Nicolas Sperry, Assistant Director of Recovery and Support Programs at BC.

Distinct from Counseling Services, the ASAP support line is not staffed by licensed physicians, but rather by “consultants,” as Sperry calls them, whose role is to “help students discern and seek the appropriate resources when necessary.”

The consultants can actively assist students in seeking emergency help if needed, and can also clarify the “help seeking policy” (4.3.3. in the code of conduct) to students who are considering seeking support, but are still concerned that they or a friend will be punished.

“More people fall into having a distorted idea about resources on campus,” says Sperry, “as opposed to people who know they won’t walk in and be thrown into the conduct system for drinking.” For this reason, ASAP’s biggest task may well be to convince students that alcohol-related resources at BC aim to support them, not to rat them out to the administration.

Just like increased confidentiality in sexual assault reporting, greater anonymity in the form of the ASAP alcohol support line may compromise the administration’s capacity to punish misconduct on campus. The hope is that, ultimately, this shift will increase of students’ level of trust as they seek more empathetic, and less mechanical, resources on campus.

The ASAP alcohol support line can be reached at (617) 552-4000.
SANet’s phone number is (617) 552-2211, which can be located on the back of any Eagle ID card.

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