For two decades, the Advocacy Center had its own space on the Syracuse University campus specifically focused on supporting and assisting sexual assault victims. On June 4th, the University closed the Advocacy Center and made the larger Counseling Center the primary service for student victims of sexual assault.
One of the key issues involved confidentiality and reporting. While the Advocacy Center was confidential, staff could still be required to report some information about the on-campus sexual assault incidents that would not identify victims.
"If you are a confidential person, you still need to report out the nature (of the assault), the time and the location of an event. We were finding that students sometimes were confused by that and sometimes weren't ready to have their story reported out yet," said Syracuse University Vice President for Student Affairs Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz.
The Counseling Center, on the other hand, has medical privilege, meaning no information about sexual assaults is required to be reported.
"When a student has been victimized and feels that they need a place to go purely to talk it through, we felt a privileged place, a privileged location would make the most sense," said Reed Kantrowitz.
Syracuse University administrators say the Advocacy Center was not compatible with confidentiality standards set by the White House Sexual Violence Task Force and Federal Title IX. Multiple people familiar with the task force's report told CNY Central that the University's interpretation is incorrect and that the report (and federal standards) were designed to include organizations like the Advocacy Center.
Reed Kantrowitz said she is aware that many people disagree with the university's approach but administrators came to the decision to close the Advocacy Center after two years of discussions. She noted that the Counseling Center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week while the Advocacy Center was not open around the clock.
"One of the pieces that came though in the white house task force report was that you need to give students clarity on where they can go for support and that's why we felt that if students want a completely safe place to go, here is the place you can go," said Reed Kantrowitz. "We are realigning the support services that we have always offered into ways that make it clearer for students for where to go."
Randi Bregman has 24 years of experience working with domestic and sexual assault victims at Vera House in Syracuse. She disagrees with the decision to close the Advocacy Center and has been receiving numerous calls and e-mails from survivors who also want it to remain open. "I haven't yet heard of student survivor, or any survivor we work with, who thinks this decision makes sense for their interests," Bregman said.
Bregman does believe the University has good intentions; but she also believes the University has misinterpreted federal guidelines in shutting down one of the best on-campus sexual assault response centers in the country. Bregman explains, "I don't believe that the students will have the experience they are hoping to provide because I feel that the Advocacy Center is a better model. It feels like a step backward."
Supporters cite specific sections in the White House Task Force report that recognize school employees who counsel, support and advocate for sexual assault victims. They say the Advocacy Center's focus on victims and survivors needs made it a comfortable environment.In a blog post, supporters worry that pushing all cases to the Counseling Center could lower the amount of sexual assaults reported on Syracuse University's Clery Campus Security Report.
Reed Kantrowitz says that, even though the Advocacy Center is closed, she wants to expand sexual assault outreach and education on campus.