United States Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) visited Fairfield University Friday, holding a roundtable discussion to learn what steps the government needs to take in preventing sexual assault on college campuses.
The forum, held at the Dolan School of Business, also featured input from Jim Himes, House Representative for Connecticut’s Fourth District, and Laura Cordes, executive director of CONNSACS, or the Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services.
Each speaker entered the forum with their own views on sexual assaults, but they all stressed a willingness to change the culture surrounding the issue.
Blumenthal was first to express his views, opening the forum by laying out his hopes for the discussion.
“A lot of people want to pretend that it isn’t there. But I want to hear it in your voice, through your eyes, what you have seen on this campus,” he said.
Himes told attendees that he realizes the importance of educating young students on sexual assault and violence, a realization partially spurred by being a father to two daughters. He said that “it hits you right in the gut” to think that by not educating children on sexual assault, they may be put into danger.
Himes also expressed a need to target sexual assault education to young men, saying “unless we change the way young men think about the issues around sexual violence, what is tolerable and what is not, all the legislation in the world won’t fix it.”
Cordes also spoke of attempting to change what she referred to “rape culture” that is rampant in today’s society. She told attendees that CONNSACS, has been working towards changing this culture for almost 30 years, through “public services, victim advocacy, and prevention education and training.” CONNSACS has also been instrumental in helping to change attitudes on victim blaming, Cordes said, as well as learning more about the behavior of a sexual assault offender.
As the discussion was extended to the audience, attendees voiced their opinions on what leads to sexual assaults. Many spoke of knowing friends who found themselves in dangerous situations after having too much to drink.
In response to this, Blumenthal acknowledged that alcohol can lead to potential assault circumstances. However, he argued that “being drunk is not a defense to the person who commits a sexual assault. It is not a legal reason to be used to defend oneself for committing this crime.”
Another recurring topic of the discussion was when to educate students on sexual assaults and crimes. In his remarks, the senator called for an earlier education on sexual assaults.
“The focus on college is fine,” he said. “But it has to begin earlier, at the high school level, even in the middle school level, because that’s where the culture is ingrained.”
Several Fairfield University students were in attendance, including sophomore Claretta Mills, who argued that “there needs to be a college advocate rather than talking to an administrator,” saying this would make students who have been victims of a sexual assault more comfortable in sharing their story.
Freshman class president Jason Abate also agrees that there needs to be a change in combating sexual assaults.
“Our culture as of late has seen a lot of instances where people have chosen to make ignorant or inappropriate decisions,” he said, adding that he is glad that Senator Blumenthal and this forum highlighted what a college should be doing to help prevent sexual assaults on campus.
Blumenthal explained in closing that he is going to take what he learned from the forum and send it in a report to President Obama, while also trying to implement other changes through the legislative process.