Northeastern Disorientation

Sexual Assault at Northeastern: We Refuse to be Silenced

 · 8 mins read

Contributed by the Northeastern Sexual Assault Response Coalition

Approximately 20% of women and 6% of men are sexually assaulted while in college or university in the United States [1]. Like any university, Northeastern is not immune to issues of sexual and domestic violence. In 2016, about 14% of Northeastern students responded to a campus climate survey that since they’ve been at this university, they were sexually touched without their consent, over 3.5% of students responded that since they've been at Northeastern, they were sexually penetrated without their consent [2]. When these numbers are generalized to the entire university, this equates to approximately 4,000 students sexually assaulted and 800 students raped. The Sexual Assault Response Coalition (SARC) at Northeastern was formed in 2014 as a campaign to support survivors at a university that seeks to silence them.

At Northeastern, sexual assault and domestic violence issues and cases are handled through ViSION: the Violence Support, Intervention, and Outreach Network, a network of different campus institutions. The ViSION network includes: the Office of Gender Equity and Compliance (which houses the Title IX coordinator), the Office of Prevention and Education at Northeastern, the Northeastern University Police Department, Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, Residential Life, We Care, and University Health and Counseling Services. Whew. Each of these agencies has a different role and function, which makes the system of services for survivors overwhelming and difficult to navigate. Additionally, ViSION is simply an encompassing name for this network of offices, without any employees specifically hired as ViSION employes. When students are told to access ViSION for help, they must decide which office to go to, often without any idea which one is most suitable for their specific case. There is currently no updated guide to help students navigate the ViSION network system.

Furthermore, at Northeastern, all staff and faculty members are responsible employees, which means they are mandated reporters on all issues of sexual assault, harassment, and violence. If you tell a professor, resident assistant, advisor, or any other staff member about an assault, they must, under duress of the law, tell the Title IX coordinator. This system is designed to increase the number of reported assaults to the administration, but it offers no support for students who do not want to report. Countless students have shared their stories with trusted resources not realizing those resources are not confidential, which steals autonomy from survivors and forces them into a reporting system against their will. Many students who report assaults at Northeastern feel re-victimized by the reporting process, re-marginalized through being denied autonomy over decision-making, and re-traumatized by a non-student-centric justice system. This leads to low reporting numbers at Northeastern and low numbers of students facing disciplinary action.

The only confidential resources at Northeastern are University Health and Counseling Services counselors and Spiritual Advisors in the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service. However, there have been instances of confidential resources reporting survivors without their consent or knowledge.

There is currently a Title IX lawsuit against Northeastern, filed by fourth-year student Morgan Helfman for the mishandling of her 2013 sexual assault case. The school is being sued for counts of negligence, breach of contract, violation of Title IX, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, violation of the state equal rights act, and misrepresentation of crime statistics by the school [3]. The administration has been silent on Helfman’s case refusing to address it publicly. For months, the only statement the university has given in regards to Helfman's case is that they are unaware of the lawsuit and therefore cannot comment on it [4]. This is a boldfaced lie in an effort to avoid further media coverage.

This is not the first time allegations of this nature have been incurred against Northeastern. Katherine Rizzo filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in 2011 for the inappropriate and unethical way that her sexual assault case was handled by Northeastern. University administrators actively discouraged Rizzo from reporting or seeking action and University Health and Counseling Services (UHCS) refused to provide resources. After the assailant was found guilty, he successfully appealed to the university that the “level of consent” the committee used to accuse him was “too high.” [5] He transferred to another school without penalty or follow-through.

SARC’s first campaign centered on a proposal to establish a gender resource center on campus a space to connect students to resources, hold meetings and events, and provide confidential support to survivors of sexual violence. At the time, Northeastern was the only university in Boston that did not have a space of this nature.

SARC drafted a referendum, collected signatures, presented the proposal to the Student Government Association, and the student body voted. The referendum passed with 89% support in the Spring of 2015. In the Spring of 2016, the university announced the opening of the ViSION Resource Center to house the ViSION network. Despite efforts to be included in the planning, SARC was not consulted or respected in the process of developing the center. SARC leaders were not informed of the Center’s opening until the day of, at the same time as the general student body.

The formation of the ViSION Resource Center embodies and exemplifies Northeastern’s paternalistic attitude toward addressing students’ needs. Northeastern chose to ignore survivors by actively excluding student voices in the planning, instead centering the administration’s priorities of positively marketing student resources that actually do not address student concerns, such as the need for confidential staff.

This center fits into patterns of Northeastern co-opting student advocacy, branding it with an NU flair, and reproducing it in a way that reflects the university’s agenda. This pattern of behavior happens across all student advocacy efforts, not just in regards to sexual assault.

However, SARC is continuing to push and advocate for positive reform. Current campaigns include advocating for an expansion of confidential resources for students on campus, changing the ViSION Resource Center to be a confidential space, working with spiritual advisors on how to be better advocates for survivors, creating a map for students to navigate the complicated ViSION network, promoting visibility around mandated reporting to lower the number of accidental reports, and pushing for a release of raw data from the 2016-2017 campus climate survey.

Students are resisting the policies of the university that seek to silence survivor voices, coming together in resilience and courage. This movement is being led by intersectional feminists who understand that sexual assault differently affects black, brown, queer, non-binary, trans, differently-abled, neurodivergent, and immigrant lives. The conversation is incomplete without discussion of male survivors of sexual assault and how to break down toxic masculinity in the fight to end gendered violence.

This is a terrifying time, both on college campuses and around the country, to be a survivor of sexual assault. But there is hope. Power is building among students, not just on Northeastern’s campus, but on campuses across the country. Organizers are advocating for the rights to safety, health, and autonomy, resisting the tides that seek to normalize sexual assault and devalue survivor experiences. Together, with the power of community and resistance, millennials are building a grassroots movement.


[1] Krebs, C. P., Lindquist, C., Warner, T., Fisher, B., & Martin, S. (2007). The campus
sexual assault (CSA) study: Final report. Retrieved from the National Criminal
Justice Reference Service:

[2] Northeastern University Office of Student Affairs. (2016). Northeastern University 2015-2016 Campus Climate Survey. Retrieved from

[3] Walrath, Rowan and Morford, Rachel. “Student files lawsuit against Northeastern University.” The Huntington News. November 1st, 2016.

[4] Krantz, Laura. “Northeastern student sues over 2013 sexual assault.” The Boston Globe. November 3rd, 2016.

[5] Baker, Katie JM. “Alleged Rapist At Northeastern University Transfers Without Penalties.” Buzzfeed. May 7th, 2014.

Northeastern University Sexual Assault Response Coalition

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Meets: Wednesdays, 7pm in the ViSION Resource Center


About: The Sexual Assault Response Coalition is a group of Northeastern students working to bring better survivor-centered resources to campus to ensure the complete safety and health of all Northeastern students. SARC seeks to make Northeastern University a safer space for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence by protecting and advocating for their rights. A safer space includes accessible resources, a streamlined reporting process, and trained staff.