ITHACA, N.Y. — Two male Cornell University students are each charged with raping a woman on campus in less than a month.
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“Unfortunately, it is unlikely that those are the only two sexual assaults or rapes that have happened during that period of time,” said Heather Campbell Executive Director of the Advocacy Center in Ithaca. She’s worked in various roles at the center over the course of 18 years.
Students Wolfgang Ballinger and Xavier D. Eaglin have both been charged with first-degree rape, among other charges.
Campbell said that nationally, recent reports show that between 1 in 4 to 1 in 5 women in college will have been raped or experience an attempted rape before they graduate with a four-year degree.
For Campbell, seeing the willingness of people, including Cornell officials, to discuss sex abuse is a drastic change from how people were treated 18 years ago.
Now people know where to go for help and there are resources set up to help people cope with traumatic sexual experiences, she said.
Years ago, she said rape culture and victim blaming were more prevalent, although both still exist on college campuses.
For instance, she noted, asking a person if a rape “really” happened perpetuates a culture in which people could hesitate to report crimes.
“We used to hear (more) disbelief,” she said about reported sexual assault.
According to information released by Cornell, there were six sex crimes committed on campus in 2012, two in 2013 and four in 2014. It’s unclear what those sex crimes were specifically. Numbers for 2015 have not been released by the university, yet.
Based on these statistics, two students being charged with rape within 20 days seems unusual.
“There so much more happening in terms of outreach to students that it would not be unexpected for us to see an increase in official reports (about rape or sexual abuse),” Campbell said.
However, there is no data to determine if the increase in reports correlates with an increase in actual rapes and sexual abuse. She said only about 35 to 40 percent of rape cases are ever reported to police.
Campbell said recent public movements about consent awareness — such as the Enough is Enough awareness campaign, endorsed by Governor Andrew Cuomo — have had a direct effect on universities in Ithaca and throughout the state.
Enough is Enough highlights changes in state law that call for a myriad of changes at college campuses, including but not limited to:
— Creating a new sexual assault unit within the New York State Police
— Implementing a Students’ Bill of Rights which informs them of legal rights regarding sex abuse
— Requiring first responders to inform victims of their right to report crimes to outside police agencies
— Granting those reporting sex crimes immunity from being charged with other crimes, such as the use of drug or underage alcohol use
“It’s not just something that happens on campus,” she said. “If we are seeing an increase (in sexual abuse reports) it’s actually not surprising. It’s actually what we would expect to see right now.”
She said that there is no simple solution to address sex crimes on college campuses, adding that sex abuse on campuses is similar to sex crimes committed off campus.
But she said that doesn’t mean the problem is being ignored.
For instance, she said there are specific groups at Cornell that address sexual consent issues with fraternities and athletic teams. She declined to speak specifically about what those groups do because she is not directly associated with them, but she said the group meets with other organizations on campus to discuss sex abuse issues happening on campus.
Campbell also said the Advocacy Center is looking to hire someone soon to do campus outreach with funding made available to the center from Enough is Enough related legislation.
“Those conversations (about consent) have to start early and I think they have to be sustained,” she said. “We’re really trying to change people’s attitudes about consent.”
2 reported rapes have not gone unnoticed on campus
“Personally, I’m pretty against the whole frat and Greek Life culture,” said Cornell senior Alana Rudolph.
She said that sexual consent is not adamantly emphasized in fraternities and Greek Life.
“It tends to breed certain kinds of attitudes,” she said. “As much as students say it’s not, it is.”
Ballinger was the president of the Psi Upsilon fraternity. Cornell officials have not provided, upon request, information about whether Eaglin is affiliated with any fraternities, though they confirmed he is a Cornell basketball player.
Cornell student, junior Chris Park, said Wednesday morning, “I think the university does its job promoting consent…It’s definitely up to the individual to make the right choice.”
He clarified that he is not victim blaming, but noted that it’s hard to know what to believe when students spread rumors and gossip among themselves.
He said the university could take a more proactive approach to squashing those rumors by being more transparent about releasing a comprehensive notice about what happens during crimes and keeping students updated about major cases.
Another student, junior Andrew Wong, said he thinks the university is doing what it can to address rape and sexual assault. For instance, he said in the past month, he’s noticed that police have been more visible on campus, especially at night.
“It’s a tough issue to tackle,” he said.
Freshman Carmel Bendit-Shtull said Cornell has great resources, such as the Woman’s Resource Center, to help student have access to helpful services and keep people informed.
According to the center’s website, the center hosted a presentation Tuesday night entitled, “Hook-ups, Relationships, and Creating Positive Sexual Experiences.” The center did not return a request for interview from The Voice by press times.
Bendit-Shtull said presentations like the one Tuesday night can be helpful for some people, but miss target audiences.
She said people in fraternities and on the basketball team — like Ballinger and Eaglin — are not attending those kinds of presentations.
All students The Voice talked to Wednesday morning agreed that Cornell by no means is ignoring the issue of sexual assault and rape. But they all agreed on one thing: The university can still do more.
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