Campus Sexual Assaults - Awareness Grows

The topic of campus sexual assaults has become a focus of our national conversation about safety and violence against women. As this issue gets more attention, more and more victims* of sexual assault are coming forward and reporting their assaults to campus officials and local police departments.  In many ways, this is a welcome change. Sexual assault is a sadly under-reported crime, with an estimated 60 percent of assaults going unreported ( Victims of campus sexual assaults are under even more pressure to remain silent, oftentimes by their school’s administrators, friends, and campus police departments. In a September 8, 2013 article about the changes made to the sexual assault policies at Vanderbilt University, Tennessean reporter Tony Gonzalez writes, “Some 90 percent of college rapes go unreported nationwide. That’s a troubling reality that experts say reveals a culture — particularly acute on college campuses — that deters victims from coming forward, often fails to serve their best interests and does little to prevent sexual violence in the first place.”

However, changes are happening. Universities and colleges around the country are implementing more effective prevention programs, improving confidentiality policies that will better protect survivors of sexual assault, and are heeding the call to change their campus cultures surrounding sexual violence and the way victims are treated.

The University of California system, for example, is creating a new task force to address the problem of sexual assault on all of its campuses. Janet Napolitano, former Homeland Security Secretary and new present of the University of California, stated, “We aim to be the national leader in combating sexual violence on campus, and the mission of this new task force is to continue to review and improve our efforts to make sure the University of California employs innovative, evidence-based and consistent practices across the system” (LA Times, 6/21/14).  UC’s new policies include more protections and support for survivors, better reporting of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, and sexual harassment, including those crimes committed against LGBTQ students and employees.

Of course, there are those who see the issue of campus sexual assaults as overblown. Recently, syndicated columnist George Will wrote an opinion piece that appeared in newspapers across the country that addressed “the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. ‘sexual assault’ (WA Post, 6/06/14). He goes on to complain about the expanded definition of rape (which now coincides with the definition used by the FBI) as “capacious definitions of sexual assault that can include not only forcible sexual penetration but also nonconsensual touching.”

Obviously, removing the stigma against reporting sexual assaults makes some people uncomfortable; many people do not want to face the reality of the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses. But pundits like George Will - who seem to speak from a dark past in which women were sexual objects with no will or voices of their own, to be used by men as they pleased - do not understand that survivors of sexual assault, of all genders, will no longer cower in the shadows, content to live of life of shame and fear. They are standing up and ending their silence.

* At KCSARC, we use both “victim” and “survivor” when speaking about people who have experienced sexual violence, while recognizing that everyone gets to choose which term (if any) best represents them.


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