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Event recap: “Getting it Right: Restructuring Campus Policies on Sexual Violence”

February 25, 2014

By Angela Hooks C’14

On February 19th, the Civil Rights Law Project hosted a panel entitled “Getting it Right: Restructuring Campus Policies on Sexual Violence.” The panel was a part of Penn Law’s Public Interest Week, showcasing the power of public interest law to effect social change.

The panel featured different representatives involved in the reporting and combating of sexual violence. Henry Clay Turner, partner at McSurely & Turner PLLC, and Amal Bass, staff attorney at Women’s Law Project, provided the legal framework. They noted that  Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 structures colleges’ obligations in handling sexual violence and provided insight into pursuing legal remedies. Jessica Mertz, associate director of Penn Women’s Center, acted as the voice of the Penn community and its efforts in educating and preventing sexual violence and providing support for victims. The moderator, Noel Leon, is pursuing a career in public interest. Her passion for gender equality and other civil rights issues came across clearly in her hard-hitting questions that asked the panelists to explain why sexual violence is a civil rights issue and offer different ways universities can improve their current policies.

The diverse group of panelists gave audience members insight into the difficulties involved in translating Title IX obligations into working policies and resources on university campuses. Conversation was very candid as panelists shared their frustrations with university policies across the country, as well as difficulties in trying cases and providing the necessary support for victims. Amal Bass said, “In every university policy [on sexual violence] that I read, I find something horrifying.”

But she, as well as the other panelists, also noted many universities making great strides and putting forth the effort required to ensure students’ safety on campus. On Penn’s campus, the Penn Women’s Center and its student groups are committed to supporting sexual violence victims and providing advocacy and education for the prevention of domestic and sexual violence to the entire campus. Bass and Turner both spoke of their work in advising Penn sexual violence victims, pointing out the legal and social repercussions to such a civil rights violation.

To report an incident of sexual violence and/or receive confidential counseling and support, please call the Special Services Unit in the Division of Public Safety at 215.898.6600 or visit Penn Women’s Center at 36th and Locust.