By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilman Vincent Gentile, a former assistant district attorney who prosecuted sex crimes, said the only way to combat sexual assaults on college campuses is to have “an all-encompassing approach” that includes educating students to make them aware of their rights.
Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) is one of the driving forces behind a new council bill, the New York City Campus Safety Act, which seeks to ensure that students have protection and support on campuses.
Gentile served as an assistant district attorney in Queens before he entered politics in the mid-1990s and won a state senate seat. He has served on the council since 2003.
Public Advocate Letitia James is leading the city’s effort to change the way sexual assaults are dealt with. A coalition of elected officials, women’s advocacy groups and student activists is working with James to get the legislation passed.
“If we want to stop sexual assaults from occurring on college campuses we must take an all-encompassing approach which includes better educating students on sexual violence prevention, encouraging bystander intervention and teaching students how to be compliant with the law when an incident does occur,” said Gentile said.
Among other things, the Campus Safety Act would: require colleges and universities to report sex crimes statistics to the public on a monthly basis, require colleges to coordinate response to on-campus sex crimes with a local rape crisis center, increase funding for rape crisis centers and prevention education around the city and establish a new Police Department liaison and multi-agency task force to serve as an interface with colleges and universities to strengthen sexual assault prevention programs.
The bill also calls for public hearings to be held to determine the city’s level of readiness to combat sex crimes on campuses. As chairman of the council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigation, Gentile would conduct those hearings.
The White House Sexual Assault Task Force recently outlined a disturbing trend of colleges and universities throughout the county not doing enough to prevent, investigate and report incidents of sexual assault. The Washington Post reported that the task force found that only slightly more than half of sexual assaults that occur on college campuses are reported.
During his time as an assistant district attorney, Gentile prosecuted the first date rape case in New York State. The case stemmed from a campus incident in Queens in 1991.
“In 1991, date rape was still an emerging area of criminal law, but decades later, schools are still not doing enough to prevent sexual assaults. And when they do occur, they are not encouraging victims to report the incidents. This is why I strongly support the NYC Campus Safety Act,” Gentile said.
It’s important for the city to address the issue of safety on college campuses because of the sheer number of students here, James said. “New York City is the college capital of our region. We have more college students than the entire population of Boston,” she said. “One-in-five college women is a victim of rape, and it’s time we realize our responsibility to protect our city’s students.
Mary Haviland, Executive Director of the New York City Alliance for Against Sexual Assault, said the numbers are staggering. “Between 20 and 25 percent of women on college campuses are raped or sexually assaulted over the course of their time on campus. This is a profoundly disturbing statistic,” she said. “I am heartened to see more attention and resources go to this issue.”