Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn DA holds 2nd annual campus sexual assault symposium

November 8, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. Eagle file photos by Rob Abruzzese

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez was at St. Francis College on Wednesday in Brooklyn Heights to kick off his office’s second annual Campus Sexual Assault and Intimate Partner Violence symposium.

The event is part of the Campus Sexual Assault Response Initiative and is aimed at bringing together the DA’s Office, NYPD, campus officials, legal services providers and members of the community.

“Too often, survivors of sexual assault or intimate partner violence are not treated fairly or equitably by our criminal justice system,” Gonzalez said. “College campuses are an important part of the new Brooklyn, of our larger community, and we have to keep students safe. Women face a disproportionate threat to their safety on campuses, we all know that, [and] so do trans and gender-non-conforming students. This is fundamentally unfair.”

The event lasted all day at St. Francis College and included speakers from Brooklyn College, Columbia University, the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault, Sanctuary for Families, NYC Health and Hospitals, the NYC Anti-Violence Project and the Brooklyn Family Justice Center, among others.

Senior ADA Victoria Nunez.

“We know, historically, survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence — the majority of which are women, although we do know men are victimized as well — those survivors have not been treated equally in our criminal justice system relative to other crime survivors and victims,” Gonzalez said. “That unequal treatment has undermined confidence in our justice system and law enforcement. Because of this lack of confidence, it’s estimated that only 23 percent of sexual assaults actually get reported.”

La'Shawn Rivera, executive director of the Sexual Violence Response and Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center at Columbia University.

Gonzalez explained that the necessity of the symposium, that he feels that his offices need to do more than simply prosecute cases. This is part of a holistic approach that gets many different offices involved in combating the issue.

“We want our office and the communities we serve to be co-creators of safety,” Gonzalez said. “We need the community to tell us what safety looks like to them and use it to inform us of how we do our work. That means changing prosecutorial priorities. This means listening to survivors to understand what their needs are and being prepared to meet those needs.”

In addition to simply prosecuting offenders, the Brooklyn DA’s Office has a victim services unit that provides short-term counseling, safety planning and helps provide financial and medical reimbursement through the NYS Office of Victim Services. The office can also assist in obtaining orders of protection and can provide court escorts.

Brooklyn has a large — and growing — population of college students, but many of the schools are small and don’t always have enough resources to help students with issues of sexual assault on campus or intimate partner violence.

By hosting the symposium, Adams aims to offer these smaller colleges a chance to provide resources to their students. The Campus Sexual Assault Response Initiative also gives students a third avenue to report crimes, providing an alternative to reporting through the campus or through NYPD.

“It’s important for me, and what really motivated me to get this moving is that every student needs to feel comfortable to come forward and tell what happened to them,” Gonzalez said. “If someone is victimized, they should not feel pressured or scared to remain silent.”