With high-profile cases capturing national attention, many people are aware that sexual assaults on college campuses are a widespread problem. In the following interview, Loeb & Loeb partner Greg Schwed discusses the pro bono work he does for End Rape on Campus (EROC), an organization working to create policy change and help survivors of campus sexual assault, and how others at the firm can get involved.
Can you provide some background on End Rape on Campus and the services it provides?
End Rape on Campus is a grassroots organization that was formed several years ago by three young women who were themselves survivors of campus sexual assaults. In addition to offering direct support to survivors and their families, EROC works to prevent campus sexual violence through education and policy reform.
What type of work do you do for EROC?
Services can really vary. We have helped survivors obtain and enforce “no contact” orders so their attackers won’t continue to harass them. We’ve also helped survivors obtain records to which they’re entitled and obtain refunds of tuition and other charges the college unfairly saddled them with after they were sexually attacked.
Typically, the work involves phone calls, letters and emails with college administrators. It’s a delicate mix of diplomacy and strategic threats. We can often be effective, simply because a college administrator is more likely to take seriously a lawyer calling from a national law firm than a complaint from a 19-year-old sophomore.
Even when we are unable to achieve a satisfactory result, I’ve found that survivors still derive some comfort just from knowing that they have someone who believes them and is unequivocally on their side.
What do you find most challenging about this work?
What has surprised me most is the resistance we encounter in trying to get the college or university to do the right thing. You’d think that college administrators would be doing all they can to make a safe environment on campus and punish perpetrators when they catch them. But all too often, they don’t.
Administrators don’t want to rock the boat. They may fear that if they grappled with the problem of campus rape in a serious and systematic way, it would focus attention on the disturbing fact that a shockingly high percentage of their students will at some point in their college careers be sexually attacked. That’s not publicity they want.
At the individual level, administrators often find the easy approach is to just kick the can down the road. If proceedings are sufficiently delayed, the attacker eventually graduates: problem solved!
Colleges are also under pressure from those pushing for stronger protections for the accused attackers. Some of the suggested procedural changes — such as a higher standard of proof to substantiate the assault and the right of the attacker to cross-examine the survivor — can both discourage survivors from coming forward and exacerbate the trauma they have already faced.
How can others at the firm get involved?
I encourage anyone who wants to get involved to contact me. The cases we receive from EROC typically do not require a major time commitment, and they can be handled from any Loeb office.
I would also highly recommend watching the Academy Award-nominated documentary titled “The Hunting Ground.” The film is an exposé of sexual assault crimes on U.S. college campuses. Three of EROC’s founders appear in the film, which does a great job of highlighting the issues survivors face.