Actions, Not Words, to Stop Sexual Assaults

By Catherine M. Greene
Boston Globe [Boston MA]
April 12, 2003

LAST YEAR, amid increasingly tragic revelations of child abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church, multiple reports of rapes of young women at local high schools, and women being sexually assaulted at train stations, Jane Doe Inc. called upon Acting Governor Swift to establish a multidisciplinary commission to address the issues of child abuse and sexual assault. The confluence of events -- public outrage, extensive media coverage, and the attention of elected officials -- represented a watershed moment in the movement to end sexual violence. Social change seemed inevitable.

Indeed, Swift did establish a short-term, multidisciplinary task force on sexual abuse and assault.

The task force held public hearings in five regions throughout the Commonwealth, assembled a 300-page record of testimony, created an inventory of existing sexual assault and abuse services in Massachusetts, and formed working groups to develop recommendations.

After six months of work, the task force delivered a comprehensive report entitled ''Toward a Commonwealth Free from Sexual Violence,'' with 43 specific recommendations. This document provides a roadmap for effective sexual abuse and assault intervention and prevention practices.

Sadly, what will happen to this report remains a mystery. If it simply collects dust somewhere in the archives of the State House, it will be a shameful example of intellectual and fiscal waste, proof that we are socially inert.

Worse, we will shoulder the responsibility for letting a rare opportunity for significant improvements to public health and public safety pass us by.

Current news suggests that we are no less tolerant of or more prepared to intervene and prevent child abuse, rape, and sexual assault than we were a year ago.

Reforms underway in the Catholic Church are a far cry from complete. Serious concerns remain that the same fortress of institutional barriers that silenced victims and protected abusers has yet to be dismantled. Incidences of teen dating violence, including rape and sexual assault, are at epidemic levels. And, with no additional funding, community-based rape crisis centers throughout the Commonwealth provided 2,726 individuals with 13,498 sessions of counseling and advocacy services, responded to 13,397 hotline calls, and provided hundreds of individuals with medical and legal advocacy.

These numbers represent an increase by as much as 70 percent in service delivery.

While current budget crises and critical world events deserve our attention, we cannot afford to deny the pervasiveness of sexual violence. Ending sexual violence along with domestic violence demands a statewide community commitment. This was the rally cry of the task force's report -- the need for an ongoing, formal, multidisciplinary, public-private body to foster collaborations and begin moving the recommendations forward. To ignore the complexity of the problem will cost us multifold in terms of budget dollars and human suffering.

When the task force met, it was the first opportunity to join together regarding sexual violence intervention, prevention and treatment efforts underway throughout the Commonwealth. The task force commissioners represented an array of experts from the public and private sectors and survivors themselves. After only a couple of meetings, the value of a coordinated statewide effort was self-evident as long-overdue dialogues, relationships, and collaborations evolved.

There was an encouraging momentum in the air when the task force submitted its report and an eagerness to work together. Six months later, the momentum is waning.

Let us not be complacent. April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We encourage Governor Romney and the Legislature to act now and create a forum that will take us from inertia to change. Let us seize the opportunity and move ''Toward a Commonwealth Free From Sexual Violence.'' Let us not find ourselves stuck in the same place in April 2004.

Catherine M. Greene is interim executive director of Jane Doe Inc.

This story ran on page A13 of the Boston Globe on 4/12/2003.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.