Students and administrators are working to establish a cab voucher program for victims of sexual assault to obtain free cab vouchers to transport them to Interim LSU Hospital for a rape kit examination. ILH is the only hospital in New Orleans that can perform a rape kit examination.
Undergraduate Student Government passed legislation March 24, supporting the initiative. Other organizations working to start up the program include Sexual Aggression Peer Hotline and Education, Tulane University Peer Health Educators, the Student Health Advisory Council, the Student Health Center, the Center for Wellness and Health Promotion, Counseling and Psychological Services and Student Resources and Support Services.
Senior Samantha Campbell, who co-authored the USG legislation, said providing victims with a cab voucher would allow them an option if they wish not to seek assistance from the university. Campbell also said students are unaware that TUPD will transport students to the hospital free of charge, and even if they are aware, they may not want to file a report with Tulane or may feel uncomfortable with the police.
“A cab voucher program would solve a bunch of those problems,” Campbell said.
Concrete plans for the program are still being developed. Campbell said the Tulane program will be based in part on a similar program in the San Francisco Bay Area. Director of TheWELL Lindsey Greeson said aspects of a “SafeRide” program at University of West Florida may also be included in plans. Greeson played a role in the implementation of the UWF program before coming to Tulane.
Greeson said from her previous experience that the program may cost around $10,000. Members of USG suggested at their meeting that the program could be funded by the USG reserve fund.
Campbell said a victim of sexual assault can call SAPHE, which would put the victim in contact with one of the cab companies Tulane has contracted.
She said cab drivers transporting students to the hospital would be prohibited from asking questions about the situation.
“I don’t know if the cab driver would know exactly the situation, just that it was a sensitive and urgent situation,” Campbell said. “If the student needs to be transported to the hospital, we want to make sure the cab drivers transport them with no questions asked. We would establish all of that, whatever the specifics may be, in the contracts we set up with the cab companies.”
Freshman Praveena Fernes, who has worked as a crisis hotline agent since she was 15 years old and is certified domestic violence counselor in the Bay Area, said a cab voucher service will allow victims to have control following a sexual assault.
“This service will give victims another opportunity to make a choice, thus helping the survivor regain a sense of control of his or her life,” Fernes said. “During a sexual assault, power is taken away from the survivor, and we want to support decisions and choices by presenting options and resources for survivors to make the decision that is right for him or her.”
TUPD Superintendent Jon Barnwell said he supports any system that would give victims more options after an assault.
“Having a voucher will ensure [victims] are not placed in an uncomfortable situation when they don’t want any involvement with police during the immediate aftermath,” Barnwell said. “Communication should include being able to report the incident to police at a later date should they wish to do so.”
Greeson said the cab vouchers would be available to students other than sexual assault victims if they feel like they are in a dangerous situation, such as if they are overly intoxicated or believe a date is acting aggressively.
“The intent of the program is to support survivors in order to give them options, but also to provide some prevention in terms of giving students an exit,” Greeson said.
Campbell said this cab voucher program sends a positive message to the Tulane community.
“Anything that we’re doing to provide resources for sexual assault survivors is sending a message to survivors of sexual assault at Tulane that we care about them and we care about the issue,” Campbell said. “We’re working to make this a better Tulane.”