Colleges must take more action to prevent assaults

May 7, 2014 

At American University, disturbing emails from male students denigrating women and making light of rape roil the campus. At Dartmouth College, the new president delivers a stern lecture about a dangerous culture of extreme drinking and sexual violence.

At Columbia University, 23 students file federal complaints about a hostile school environment. At Harvard University, the student newspaper publishes a searing essay from a female student detailing how she suffered from a sexual assault while her assailant went unpunished.

What is so troubling about these incidents is that they are symptomatic of the inability of higher education to effectively deal with sexual violence perpetrated by students against students. We hope that guidelines released by a White House task force will lead to new resolve by college and university officials to tackle the problem.

The Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault published a 20-page report that aims for universities to be more active in trying to prevent sexual assaults and more effective in helping victims and dealing with their assailants.

The task force cited a 2007 Justice Department study that estimated that 1 in 5 college students has been assaulted but just 12 percent of such attacks are reported. Most occur in the freshman or sophomore year, most victims know their attackers and many cases occur when the women (who are the predominant victims) are drunk, drugged, passed out or otherwise incapacitated.

Hopefully, the task force report, with its suggestions of best practices, along with the administration’s decision to publicize schools under investigation for civil rights violations in their handling of sexual abuse cases, will prompt colleges to take a hard look at the job they are doing and make needed changes.

If not, they run the risk of Congress mandating action, as some survivors and their advocates are urging. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who helped shine a spotlight on the military’s failings in dealing with sexual abuse in its ranks, have turned their attention to college campuses.

The Washington Post

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