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Sexual Assault: Transforming American Colleges

By       Message Veena Trehan       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink

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opednews.com Headlined to H2 12/16/14

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The media has shone a spotlight on rapes by celebrities and college students this year. Additionally, over 85 colleges are being investigated for violating Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on gender for schools receiving federal funding. The Department of Justice has interpreted this statute to include schools' handling of sexual assault cases.

Universities have responded to publicity about sexual violence through inadequate measures including changing policies and staffing. Very few are holding rapists accountable and transforming the very cultures that enable sexual assault.

Recently Rolling Stone magazine published an article about "Jackie," a student who was allegedly gang raped at the University of Virginia in 2012. Rolling Stone retracted this article after certain basic facts were challenged. Jackie's account may have been flawed for many reasons, including the psychic trauma that may compromise victims' memories. Also, Rolling Stone has been criticized for departures from standard journalistic practice in vetting the article.

After the magazine's widely publicized retraction, the university (which was not significantly harmed by the article), seized on it to undertake major, positive changes--particularly important because the fraternity named in the article had been the scene of a gang rape in 1984 that resulted in jail time for the offender. Sexual assaults against female students are common--with an estimated 1 in 5 having been sexually assaulted nationwide.

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Sexual assault victims often suffer additional distress from people who doubt their accounts or dismiss their demands for accountability (see Huffington Post's Breaking the Silence).

Colleges must transform a culture of gender violence, funding the following steps through endowments, as needed. They should:

  1. Apologize to students and alumni affected by sexual assault. For many, the impact of assaults are lifelong.

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  2. Improve their policies and infrastructure to include clear definitions of consent and better staffing and training.

  3. Survey all students to elicit accurate data on the prevalence of sexual assault and the quality of support, and publish these findings. Also, publish data on the number of reported incidents of sexual assault and the university's sanctions.

  4. Provide public websites for students to report incidences of discriminatory, harassing or violent behavior (with an option to make comments private).

  5. Hold ongoing discussions to alter the dominant peer culture on sexual assault.

  6. Provide (and provide evidence of) excellent mental and physical health services for students. Thirty percent of college students find it difficult to function because of depression at some point each year; other common diseases can affect behavior also.

  7. Start a "Center for Discrimination and Gender Violence" to examine the links between popular entertainment, video games, and porn to the objectification of and violence against women. This should include the growing impotence and altered expectations associated with porn use.

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  8. Assess fraternities, other living quarters, and groups on how they perpetuate a culture that tolerates rape.

  9. Encourage campus newspapers to focus on survivor experiences.

These bold actions will foster the continued safety and self-worth of young women seeking an education.


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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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