What Efforts Can Be Done to Prevent Sexual Assault on College Campuses

The first step toward college campus safety is being fully informed on the subject of sexual assault and what it means. For those of you who need a formal definition of sexual assault: sexual assault can be defined any involuntary sexual act in which a person is coerced or physically forced to engage against their will, or any non-consensual sexual touching of a person. Sexual assault is a form of sexual violence, and it includes rape, groping, forced kissing, child sexual abuse, or the torture of the person in a sexual manner. Encouraging students to act when they see a risky situation unfolding is one of a number of ways that colleges are grappling with the sudden imperative to improve campus safety. A string of highly publicized reports of sexual violence on campuses in cluding our very own University of Utah has alarmed the White House and prompted a Department of Education investigation of more than 100 colleges and universities for possible violations of Title IX, the civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on gender. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which would require better coordination with local police departments when accusations are made. Says Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting sexual violence: "There's been more movement on this front in the last year than in the entire last decade."

According to an article by AMIE NEWMAN, Sexual assault continues to be a serious problem among young people age 18-24. According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), women in this age group who are in college are three times more likely to experience sexual violence than women of all ages, and women in this age group who aren’t attending college are four times more likely.  The beginning of college appears to be a particularly dangerous time for students, especially freshman females and transgender, genderqueer, and nonconforming (TGQN) students. Nearly 21% of TGQN college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18% of non-TGQN females, and 4% of non-TGQN males. More than 50 percent of sexual assaults on campus happen between the start of fall semester and Thanksgiving break, a span of time sometimes referred to as the “red zone.”

April is also sexual assault awareness month and the  University of Utah has a lot of events planned next week to highlight resources that are available to victims. With efforts to prevent sexual violence, the University of Utah has had to adhere to the federal Cleary Act which requires colleges and universities to notify students and employees whenever there is an ongoing threat. This alert is convenient in away that alerts students and immediately triggers a reaction to be safe. However not too long ago, The University of Utah sent out a sexual assault alert in March 2019 and following another alert of an attack towards the end of April 2019. The University of Utah campus community has yet to hear of the progress made, whether the suspect has been apprehended and it may be the same case with this recent assault in April. With the tragic murder of student Lauren McCluskey fresh in everyone's mind, University of Utah Police is trying to be as transparent as possible with the University community, since the alleged attack the University of Utah has increased security and they're still providing extra courtesy escorts if anyone feels unsafe walking around campus alone.

Sexual assault on campus is a difficult topic to discuss. However, if we as students, educators, and society hope to prevent its occurrence and support those who have been impacted, it is critical that we engage in an open and honest discussion about sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual violence. The American College Health Association (ACHA) identifies sexual and relationship vio- lence "as a serious public health issue affecting college and university campuses." Tarana Burke, creator of the #MeToo movement, makes the important point that “there is no expected narrative, standard perpetrator and victim, or archetypical story of abuse.” Anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of sexual assault or abuse regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, mental and physical ability, or other identity markers. The stories, experiences, and narratives of sexual assault and abuse, on and off campus, are endlessly diverse. Though women are more likely than men to be victimized by sexual assault, it is essential to disregard the harmful assumption that women are the only victims of sexual assault. This assumption creates a massive roadblock, one that stands in the way of groups and individuals who can offer support and resources to victims of sexual assault, as well as provide preventative guidance to campus groups, schools, and communities.

Many colleges have revisted the traditional disciplinary process, which often involved investigations and hearings by inexperienced panels of faculty and students. There was a move to outsource sexual assault cases or hire experienced investigators. The University of Michigan and Michigan State have created a Special Victims Unit within the Campus Police Department in 2015. This effort was meant to result in better evidence gathering and more sensitive treatment of victims of sexual assault and other violent acts, predicted Holly Rider-Milkovich, director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center at the University of Michigan. In 2014, Princeton and Harvard lowered the required standard of proof in these cases to the widely used "preponderance of the evidence" standard that is recommended by the Department of Education. A growing number of schools are also stiffening penalties for offenders. At Duke, for example, expulsion is now the favored sanction.

Even if you’ve not experienced sexual assault personally, all of us have reason and interest to work together in the prevention of sexual assault. There are a number of things that everyone can do to prevent sexual assault. From actions you can take in your personal life, to institutional and governmental policies you can support, each of us can make a difference in preventing sexual assault, both on campus and in the world at large. As college students, we have a unique opportunity to work together to create safety networks and prevent sexual assault at our schools. Since college students are often the victims, perpetrators, and peers of sexual assault, it is incumbent upon us to support and look out for our friends and peers, discuss sexual assault and violence openly and honestly, and work to increase safety on your campus and in our community.

Citations

  • Howard, Beth. “How Colleges Are Battling Sexual Violence.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 28 Aug. 2015, www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/08/28/how-colleges-are-battling-sexual....
  • Newman, Amie. “Preventing Sexual Assault on College Campuses: What Works?” Our Bodies Ourselves, 8 Sept. 2017, www.ourbodiesourselves.org/2017/09/preventing-sexual-assault-on-college-....
  • Rich, Beth. “Sexual Assault on Campus: Awareness and Prevention.” TheBestSchools.org, Thebestschools.org, 13 Nov. 2018, thebestschools.org/magazine/sexual-assault-on-campus/.
  • Scheidell, Dora. “University of Utah Still Investigating Alleged Sexual Assault.” fox13now.Com, 28 Mar. 2019, fox13now.com/2019/03/28/university-of-utah-still-investigating-alleged-sexual-assault/.
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