Sexual assault response at Williams: SART, WPD, Security and other options

Two recent reports of alleged sexual assaults on students have left many people confused about what options are available on campus to help students cope with a rape or sexual assault. Williams students have at their disposal an extensive network of on-campus resources, as well as a number of off-campus alternatives.

The Rape and Sexual Assault Hotline is one of the services offered by the Rape and Sexual Assault Network. The Hotline is in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week when school is in session, and it is staffed entirely by trained student members of the Network. The Hotline is completely student-operated and is not connected to the Dean’s Office or Security.

Hotline volunteers carry beepers for twenty-four hour shifts and answer any calls that come in during their shift. All volunteers who answer Hotline calls are female, but there are male Network members available to speak to. Contacts to Hotline staff do not have to be made solely through a call. According to Heather Foran ’04, co-coordinator of the Network, “by training for the Hotline you make a statement that you’re available for other issues all the time.”

The Hotline has a school extension, ext. 4100. When students call this number, they are not connected immediately to the Hotline member, but instead to the pager company. The caller leaves a name and his or her campus number, and the pager company will page the on-call hotline member. The Hotline member will then return the call.

A call to the Hotline does not necessarily have to be about an incident that happened on campus, in the recent past or even to the caller. Hotline staff members can give callers information about on-campus counseling and health testing services, as well as provide general information and support.

When a student makes a call to the Hotline, the call is completely confidential. Confidentiality, according to Foran, is only broken when the caller raises a “red flag issue” – that is, when the caller poses a credible threat to him or herself or others, or in cases that involve the abuse of a minor. In these instances, the Hotline member is required to report this information to an authority, usually Security.

There is no requirement that on-call staff report that they received a call, and callers are not required to take any further action. This, according to Foran, is one of the advantages of a student-run sexual assault resource. “The Hotline itself is reassuring because [the caller] knows that there’s someone who cares and is there. With the exception of certain circumstances, you can call and have issues discussed without it going any further.”

However, students also have a wide array of avenues to choose from if they do decide to report an assault. Students have the option of reporting an assault to Security, the Health Center or the Dean’s Office, as well as the Williamstown Police Department (WPD).

According to Jean Thorndike, Director of Security, when a student reports a sexual assault directly to Security, officers will respond to any on-campus location. At that point, if medical attention is necessary, security officers will take the student to the Health Center or arrange transport to North Adams Regional Hospital. “If the student refuses medical attention,” said Thorndike, “Security makes sure the student is safe, comfortable, and with a support group if possible.” Security will then contact the on-call member of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) to come and stay with student.

Then, said Thorndike, “the dean on call will be notified, and Security will notify the police that a sexual assault has been reported to Security. We will give the date and time and the general location; however, the survivor remains anonymous.”

A decision about whether or not the Williams community will be notified about the assault depends on what information Security receives about it and comes after consultation with the Dean’s Office. “Campus alerts are very important not only when sexual assaults occur but also when any crime places the campus community in jeopardy,” said Thorndike. “Campus notification raises awareness, and in certain situations people will provide information that might ultimately help an ongoing investigation.”

SART serves as an important resource for students who have been sexually assaulted. Volunteers from SART are available to counsel students who have been raped or sexually assaulted. SART is composed of volunteers from various campus and community entities, including Security, the Health Center, and the WPD. Members have received between thirty and forty hours of training, carry a beeper and are on call for periods of two weeks at a time.

When Security or the Health Center pages the on-call SART member, they respond immediately and provide counseling and support during the forty-eight hours immediately following the report. According to Donna Denelli-Hess, health educator at the Health Center and a SART member, the SART member is available to do “whatever the survivor needs most.” This may include going to the hospital with the survivor, or serving as their advocate during interviews with Security, the WPD, or the Dean’s Office, depending on what course of action the survivor chooses to pursue.

According to Denelli-Hess, SART services are time-limited because most SART members are not trained to provide long-term assault counseling. “If a student needs long-term counseling, and they usually do, we’ll make an appropriate referral,” said Denelli-Hess. “We also let the survivor know they can have direct access at any time to the Rape and Sexual Assault Network.”

The Health Center can also be a valuable source of services and support for students who have been sexually assaulted. According to Ruth Harrison, director of Health Services, pregnancy and STD testing is available to students at no cost, as is long-term assault counseling. “If the assault is recent,” said Harrison, “we do encourage survivors to be seen at the hospital for testing because they can receive prophylactic antibiotic treatment that we can’t provide at the Health Center.” Students who come to the Health Center after an assault are not required to go to the hospital, but, according to Harrison, the Health Center encourages it “to makes sure the survivor isn’t physically hurt.”

If a student reports an assault to the Health Center, the Health Center is required by law to notify the police. Said Harrison, “I do this by calling Jean Thorndike. The survivor’s name is not given to Security or the police unless she or he is going to report the assault to them. I just let Jean know that a student has reported an assault to the Health Center and tell her whether it was on or off campus.”

The WPD is, by law, notified by Security if an assault occurs or by the hospital if a rape kit is done, and they need to come pick it up as evidence. However, students also have the option of reporting an assault directly to the WPD.

The WPD has a female officer, Tanya Hernandez, who is specially trained to investigate sexual assaults. According to Arthur Parker, Chief of the WPD, when a student reports an assault to the police, the WPD will speak with the survivor and request that she or he go to North Adams Regional Hospital to check for any trauma that might have occurred during the assault, to
be tested for STDs and to have a rape kit done. If a student has gone directly to the police, said Parker, the department will notify Security if the assault happened on campus. The police also contact the Elizabeth Freeman Center in North Adams, which provides sexual assault and domestic violence counseling.

When a survivor contacts the WPD, they can expect the same confidentiality from the department as from on-campus resources. “We don’t contact anyone that the victim doesn’t want us to contact,” said Parker. “In sexual assault cases, the victim’s wishes are paramount. Just because police interview the victim doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be prosecution.”

Reporting an assault to the WPD does not automatically commit a survivor to pressing charges. The advantage of reporting to the police is that survivors then have the option of pursuing prosecution at a later time.

“What I think that the Williams College community needs to know,” said Parker, “is that we bring resources to the table that don’t necessarily involve prosecution, and I think there’s a misconception about that. We can explain to them the various aspects of the law and their options.”

One thing that everyone involved in providing sexual assault resources stressed was the importance of preserving the welfare of the survivor. “The most important thing in situations that have arisen is the survivor’s welfare – for them to be physically and emotionally safe,” said Foran.

Many of those involved with the different resources expressed the hope that the variety of options available to help a survivor would make students more comfortable reporting instances of sexual assault. “There’s a large number of assaults on campus that never get reported,” said Foran. “There’s a misconception that rape or sexual assault is something that occurs in a very violent, obvious form. It takes on many forms and comes down to the issue of consent, which is not often clear.”

Likewise, Denelli-Hess said she wished “that more women and men would come forward and at least talk about what’s happened, even if not to make a report. I would let people know that they don’t have to walk the recovery journey alone.”