The conversation about sexual assault on college campuses has grown widespread in the aftermath of the Brock Turner rape case at Stanford University where the victim’s powerful letter captured the nation’s attention. Since the case’s July 2016 outcome, school administrators and safety officials feel greater urgency to inform the public about how they intend to keep students safe during the school year.
Sexual Assault on College Campuses
It’s been speculated that United States college campuses grossly under report the incidence of sexual assault that happens on school grounds. A possible reason for the unreported assault: schools fear that full reporting of these incidents are a negative reflection of their campuses, which would cause their application numbers to fall.
In addition, there is the difficulty that university officials face in determining fault within sexual assault reports and also applying corrective measures in the circumstances. In a recent article, the Washington Post outlines the opposing sides of a story that happened at the University of Virginia last year.
“To him, in that moment, it was a thrilling hookup at a party. To her — as she now sees it — it was a terrifying assault. To U-Va., it was another drunken mess with no good answers.”
Though there has been increased pressure placed on universities to protect students from sexual assault on college campuses over the past 25 years, there hasn’t been a decline in sexual assault cases. Vice President Joe Biden found the results of current statistics on sexual assault compared to the data prior to 1994’s Violence Against Women Act extremely troubling. For females between the ages of 16 to 24 years old, the numbers of sexual assault remained unchanged. This despite the generation’s outspoken support for diverse issues and human rights.
College Sexual Assault Statistics
Recent peer-reviewed studies show that 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted while in college. However, 91 percent of 11,000 US schools report a 0% rate of sexual assault on their campus. Experts agree that this improbable statistic of sexual assault is a sign that the school is actually unwilling to track or divulge the prevalence of sexual assault on their campus.
The problem of under reporting the rate of sexual assault on college campuses begins in the university culture as a whole. Often, sexual assault victims do not come forward and report the crime done to them because they do not expect it to do any good. They may not have clear memories of the incident, they may fear shaming or culpability, or perhaps they simply do not expect to be believed. In addition, universities may not have an accessible support system for victims. Many students arrive at university campuses alone, far removed from their daily support systems and may not know who to confide in after they have been assaulted.
Even worse, faculty, teachers and administrators may be complicit in keeping sexual assault unreported. In the University of Virginia incident, students who knew about the incident were actually instructed by school officials not to speak with the press.
As a result, the vast majority of sexual predators on college campuses are never brought to justice, and the voices of victims remain silent.
Preventing Sexual Assault on College Campuses
Under the leadership of Vice President Joe Biden, a public-awareness campaign known as “It’s On Us” is spreading among universities. The campaign provides guidance for both men and women to intervene before sexual assault takes place. In addition to the campaign, White House officials say that the president, the vice president, their wives and members of the Cabinet refuse to visit institutions that do not take sufficient action on cases of campus sexual assault.
This stance, and public awareness for situations such as the Brock Turner case, has pushed hundreds of schools to reform their reporting and discipline procedures to make it easier for sexual assault victims to come forward.
It is expected that in the coming years, reports of campus sexual assault and misconduct will rise. Despite this disturbing realization, a rise in assault reports would actually be a positive indication that colleges are finally beginning to serve the rights of victims.
How to Prevent Sexual Assault on College Campuses
Colleges owe students and parents the assurance that, if the unthinkable happens, the school will uphold their rights to ensuring that a safe environment is restored and that those who are guilty of sexual assault are held accountable.
In addition to improving campus security and making reporting easier for victims, colleges must work to improve their overall culture. Educating students about the supremacy of consent in sexual situations is key to preventing acts of violence. In addition, victims of sexual assault must be shielded from subsequent harassment and trauma.
Parents should be encouraged to prepare their college students to protect and advocate for their own sexual safety, as well as to intervene on behalf of others. By offering their voices in support of each other’s safety, college students can create a future where nobody has to be a victim.
If you or your child is starting a new college term, make sure they are prepared with the following protective measures for avoiding and preventing sexual assault on campus:
- Understand that only yes means yes, even in the cases of committed relationships.
- Trust your intuition. If you have a bad feeling from an interaction you’ve been part of, or from an interaction you’ve observed a friend having, take preventive measures. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Stick with your friends, especially at night. Staying together is key to protecting your own safety and that of your friends.
- Know your alcohol limits. Over half of sexual assaults committed against college students involve alcohol.
- Never leave your drink alone, and avoid drinking from a communal alcohol source (like a punch bowl) or from a drink someone hands to you.
- If a person is too intoxicated or otherwise able to give knowledgeable consent, no sexual activity should take place.
- Create a safety plan. In the event that you are in a sexual assault situation have a plan in place to contact others for help or to extricate yourself from the situation.
- Be an “UpStander”– If you see a sexual assault occurring, stand up and intervene if safe to help the victim or notify authorities.