Amherst College failed to provide adequate support to student victims of sexual violence, according to the findings of an investigation released Wednesday.
The report concluded Amherst must change how it responds to reports of sexual violence on campus, recommending the school improve coordination between its counseling center, health center and its dean of students office. The report also recommended that the college better publicize resources devoted to sexual assault victims. This way, the report said, victims know where to turn and how to take action against assailants.
Amherst President Biddy Martin established a task force, which authored the report, in the wake of Angie Epifano's op-ed in October, where she detailed the hostile environment she encountered from college officials after she reported her sexual assault. Epifano said she was raped in a campus dorm her freshmen year, and after struggling to find support at the school, she dropped out after her sophomore year in July 2012.
Gina Smith, an attorney assisting Amherst's reform effort, said Epifano did provide a credible account of her experience, and the college failed to respond properly, according to an email Martin sent to faculty and students.
"Based on her careful review, Ms. Smith concludes that, in this case, the college failed to follow policy and procedure in a way that would have provided a prompt and integrated response to Ms. Epifano's report," Martin wrote.
The report said Amherst did not sweep the problem of sexual violence "under the rug," but did admit shortcomings. Emergency services were poorly-coordinated, mental health and other support services were unreliable and some personnel were poorly trained in how to handle sexual assaults, according to the report.
The report also attempted to assess Amherst's social scene and how it relates to sexual assault. The committee said first-year female students are most likely fall victim to sexual assault, and said hazing like peer pressure from upperclassmen promoted heavy alcohol consumption and other risky behaviors.
The Board of Trustees said in a statement it expects "recommendations will be considered immediately," and promised to implement reforms swiftly.
Martin said Amherst has already made improvements to its immediate response to reported sexual misconduct and assault.
Martin said she will join Women’s and Gender Studies professor Margaret Hunt, who chaired the task force, and other members of the Special Oversight Committee on Feb. 5 to answer questions from Amherst students about the review and reforms to be implemented.
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