New Campus Sexual Assault Reports
In April, student unions played a central role in casting the spotlight on Sexual Assault Awareness Month’s “Embrace Your Voice” theme. The student union at Southeastern Louisiana University hosted self-defense demonstrations and Talley Student Union at North Carolina State University co-hosted a daylong gender and equity research symposium. A “What Were You Wearing” survivor art installation addressing that rape culture myth was opened to the public in the Sacred Heart University Commons, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center at University of California–Berkeley was the site for a two-day “Yoga as Healing” retreat.
With the recent release of two reports on sexual assault on campuses—one from the federal agency the National Council on Disability, and the other from the government of Ontario—and the impending, and controversial, reworking of Title IX regulations by the U.S. Department of Education, the topic of sexual assault is poised to remain a central issue on campuses far beyond the “Embrace Your Voice” awareness campaign. The two reports and the Title IX changes come in the wake of a 2015 Association of American Universities report that found one in four undergraduate women had been the victim of sexual assault or misconduct.
The new study by the National Council on Disability reviewed colleges and universities in 14 states and the District of Columbia. It found that 31.6% of undergraduate women with a disability reported having been sexually assaulted, compared with 18.4% of undergraduate women without a disability. In Ontario, a survey completed by 158,000 students found that over 56% of the respondents had experienced some type of sexual harassment.
More than 104,000 public comments were received by the U.S. Department of Education on a proposal to overhaul campus sexual assault rules, and one state’s response to the proposed rule change will lead to state prosecutors visiting every college campus. New Jersey State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who was among 18 other state attorneys general opposing the changes, said prosecutors from each of the state’s 21 counties would conduct campus forums on the rules.
At the University of Arizona, the Dean of Students Office and its new Survivor Advocacy Program will be one of the beneficiaries of a $1.5 million gift to form a Consortium on Gender-Based Violence, and the university’s student affairs division will serve as a key partner in the consortium.
In response to the National Council on Disability’s report, U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan and senators Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) and Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire) have introduced The Safe Equitable Campus Resources and Education Act to address gaps where students with disabilities need help and support.
In Ontario, the government has committed $6 million in grant funding to bolster sexual violence programs on campuses. It also created additional policies and programs that:
- Require every publicly assisted college and university to report annually to its board of governors on measures related to the experiences of and support for students who have experienced sexual violence.
- Doubled the government’s 2018-19 investment in the Women’s Campus Safety Grant to assist colleges and universities in supporting the prevention of sexual violence.
- Require every publicly assisted college and university in Ontario to have a task force devoted to tackling sexual violence on campus. The task force would include diverse student representatives and be required to report its findings to both its respective Board of Governors as well as to the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.
- Require every publicly assisted college and university to review their sexual violence policies by September.
One community and campus where they may be getting things right in addressing sexual assault is Durham, New Hampshire, and the University of New Hampshire. The town and university have consistently been ranked among the safest places in the United States by various public safety organizations like the National Council for Home Safety and Security, Safewise.com, and Alarms.org.
Some of that may be due to academic and student life programs like its Sexual Harassment & Rape Prevention Program and its Prevention Innovations Research Center. The center offers several evidence-based initiatives to the public like a mobile app (uSafeUS) that connects to resources and information, a Bringing in the Bystander program that focuses on a community of responsibility framework, and the nationally recognized Know Your Power marketing campaign aimed at reducing stalking and sexual and relationship violence. Likewise, the prevention program (SHARPP) provides free, confidential advocacy and direct services to survivors and their allies, while also offering culturally competent awareness and prevention programs on the campus.