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"Yay, I Got In!" Now What to Ask Colleges about Campus Sexual Assault

By       Message Veena Trehan     Permalink
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Every day each spring, female high school students gleefully open their college admission envelopes, full of information about the schools that have accepted them. But when it comes to evaluating the safety of these schools, they have little available information. Clery Act statistics vastly under-report sexual assault. SAFER's Campus Accountability Project may be out of date. Universities sometimes post helpful information on campus safety, but it is often scattered throughout their websites.

Every parent and student should find out more about how schools do -- or don't -- support a safe, nondiscriminatory campus. Ask any -- or all -- of the following basic questions, and you can post the answers to #askacollegeaboutrape.

  1. Has the college or university done a survey on campus climate and sexual assault, and what were the results? Senator Claire McCaskill's 2014 report on campus sexual violence found that only 16 percent of colleges conduct campus surveys. These surveys, which may soon become mandatory, typically find that females are assaulted in the double digits (10 percent-plus). Survey results should include campus sexual assault rates, prevalence of rape myths among students, and survivor use of college services.

  2. How much is the college or university spending on preventing and responding to gender-based discrimination and sexual assault on campus? What is the breakdown for these expenditures? It is important that money is invested primary prevention, survivor support, bystander intervention, and accountability--not just in risk reduction focused on changing women's behaviors, as is so often the case now. Calculate the annual expenditure on sexual assault prevention and response as: 1) a percent of total endowment, and 2) as a percent of the college's operating budget. Your calculations may give you insight into the priority colleges place on their students' safety.

  3. What training do the following groups receive: students, student-athletes, fraternity members, campus leaders, campus law enforcement, faculty and staff, and those who adjudicate cases? What is the frequency, duration, type, and topics covered in training? Brief, one-session training is not effective as a major part of a prevention plan. In-person training should focus on individuals, relationships, community, and how society can work more effectively. Training in multiple settings is also useful.

  4. How does campus programming address culture that tolerates and/or promotes rape? Our society often views sexual assault differently from other crimes, blames victims, and objectifies women.

  5. How does the school document its practices to fight discrimination and sexual assault, and how do current practices compare to best practices? This reporting may include those best practices identified by the university and those in the KnowYourIX policy toolkit, and White House Task Force recommendations. Ideally, given the scope of problem, the college should report to the public about how it performs against evolving best practices, even if this report changes from year to year.

  6. How does the school define consent? How and whom does it educate about it? The survivor advocacy group Know Your IX recommends consent be defined as "affirmative, knowing, and voluntary." Affirmative consent -- defined differently by different institutions-- but generally involving showing enthusiasm at each stage of a sexual encounter-- has been adopted by SUNY and California colleges, among others.

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  7. Can students report either anonymously (online) or confidentially (in-person) cases of discrimination and sexual assault? Where are these reported?

  8. What are the policies, education, and practices around alcohol consumption and alcohol-free entertainment? These include whether fraternities allow hard alcohol and the source of beer and wine (like bottles vs. a keg), and how the policy is enforced. Also, increasingly universities are supporting activities for kids who choose not to drink.

  9. What tests are given to each student to promote optimal mental and physical health? What percent of kids have had an incidence of depression in the last year or have vitamin D deficiencies that are often associated with depression? What percent are in treatment for alcohol abuse/addiction?

  10. How many investigations of sexual assault were done in the last three years, and what sanctions were taken against perpetrators? Don't be alarmed if the numbers seem higher than those of other campuses; that may mean that campus authorities are taking sexual assault investigations seriously.

  11. What support and accommodations are provided to survivors? Which, and how many resources are available to help them?

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  12. Do school health care providers ask about alcohol, porn use and sexual activity, including impotence during normal encounters, during annual appointments?

Students should also consider Googling [the college] and "sexual assault" or "rape" to identify current issues, as well as organizations active in student or alumni fight for safe, nondiscriminatory campuses.


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Veena Trehan is a DC-based journalist and activist. She has written for NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg News, and local papers.

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