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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/24/14

Spotlights and Solutions for College Rape

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Kudos to The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and Huffington Post for their continued focus on campus sexual violence. July 13's New York Times devoted much of A1 and a full page spread to the disturbing narrative of Hobart and William Smith freshman which echoes other student rapes. Anna and witnesses described her rape, photographed by other students, by members of the school's popular football team. After accusing them she was harassed. The attackers' stories changed at least twice. Anna did not receive justice: the college investigative panel missed key evidence and asked inane questions, clearing them in under two weeks, and a criminal case was quickly dismissed despite DNA evidence. Fortunately campus action is leading to the reevaluation of school policies.
Yes colleges are a toxic brew of hormones, inadequate supervision, alcohol abuse and poor judgment. Yet universities are poorly equipped to deal with assaults -- estimated as affecting one in five girls -- that occur on their campuses. A recent national survey by Senator Claire McCaskill's office found that 40 percent of schools had not investigated any assaults in five years, one-fifth don't train faculty and staff and one-third students.
Fortunately government and campuses are taking significant steps to address an often discriminatory and hostile climate. A White House Task Force released recommendations in April. Dartmouth held a summit with representatives from 60 schools earlier this month. Collegiate best practices have significant potential to curb such violence:
  • Evidence standard -- Adopting the lower "preponderance of evidence" standard is consistent with guidance offered by the Department of Justice's Office of Civil Rights. Survivors are often retraumatized through exposure in their dorms, classes and extracurriculars; this measure could help keep victims far from their attackers.
  • Penalties -- Many schools are adopting harsher penalties for sexual assault, i.e., recommending or requiring expulsion for severe offenses.
  • "Affirmative consent" rules -- Some schools are considering adopting rules that clarify consent. The strict ones of Antioch College call for verbal consent while those under consideration by the California legislature require clear, unambiguous and conscious agreement to engage in sexual activity.
  • Bystander intervention -- All college students should be trained on a regular basis to step in to prevent sexual assault.
  • Education and surveys -- Campuses should educate their students on campus rules, bystander intervention, and penalties for harassment and assault through the use of specific scenarios. Additionally, the 84 percent of colleges who do not survey students on campus climate should start doing so.
  • Title IX complaints -- Colleges students should continue to file Title IX complaints to provide a non-discriminatory, safe learning environment for female students. The interpretation of this act by the Department of Education to include sexual harassment and assault is important in holding colleges accountable.
  • Title IX funding -- The Department of Education must make clear its intention to withhold federal funding for non-compliant institutions.
  • Reporting -- Both Title IX and the Clery Act -- the latter which is currently being updated -- require accurate reporting on assaults. Most colleges provide unrealistically low numbers.
  • Alcohol use -- Some universities are cracking down on high risk, binge drinking often associated with assaults.
  • Support resources and staffing -- Thirty percent of schools do not train their law enforcement officials on sexual assault. Seventy percent do not have protocols for the coordination of campus staff with law enforcement. Many schools have poorly trained individuals serving on investigative panels and insufficient resources for assault victims. All of that should change.
Additionally, as a society we must look at the cultural factors that influence violence. Kids are viewing extensive violence on TV, seeing 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 violent acts by age 18. Such acts are linked to violent behavior.
While TV viewing may be supervised, phone surfing rarely is. Many kids are exposed to pornography at a young age. Ninety percent of 8- to 16-year-olds have viewed internet porn, 25 percent by age 12 and some at 6. It frequently depicts sex outside a loving relationship and objectifies and shows violence against women. In no way is this illegal underage activity helpful sexual education. Yet boys base their beliefs of how women should act during sex on these films. In the BBC Three documentary "Porn: What's the Harm?" former porn actor Gemma Massey said she saw some women being driven mad by their career and feared the same for herself. She cautioned: "I think people need to understand that it's not real [sex]. It's not how I would have sex at home at all." The thought of 11-year-olds watching her films was "quite disturbing". More broadly, some video games use women as trophies or crime victims. Popular songs increasingly celebrate casual sex, heavy drinking and even rape. With the near-ubiquity of personal technology, the new generation may get more harmful exposure to violent sexuality.

The country that sent a man to the moon, fought two World Wars, and passed universal health care is up to the task of dramatically reducing campus rape. Young women's bodies must be protected as they improve their opportunities and minds.

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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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