Last week, a list of 55 universities under Title IX investigation for their handling of sexual assault on campus was released. This list is staggering, to say the least, and as I read to the bottom of it, I realized I could name a friend who had attended nearly every one of those schools.
College campuses have been a hotbed for rape and sexual assault for decades, and rape culture can be found at every frat party, sport team house, or dorm, with the occasional exception. It has gotten to be such a pervasive national issue that the White House has established the Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The Task Force has the mandate to share best practices, and increase “transparency, enforcement, public awareness, and interagency coordination to prevent violence and support survivors.”
To put it into one sentence, rape on campus is a big deal and universities on this list have done a poor job of preventing assaults and have botched their handling of the cases. Title IX is the accountability mechanism that will help break the cycle, not just by quantifying rape prevention efforts or interventions that respond to the needs of survivors but to ensure that both pieces are put together into a comprehensive package of programming.
Why do we care about Title IX?
Title IX is a 1972 U.S. law that prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment or sexual violence, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion. Colleges and universities have to run down a long checklist to make sure their campus is safe and free from discrimination in order to get federal funds.
As has been seen in repeated reporting from survivors of sexual assault, at Harvard for example, outdated policies, lame or ineffectual punishment, and lack of enforcement are huge barriers for survivors. One prominent manifestation of rape culture is forcing survivors to tell their stories repeatedly while blaming them for what happened. This is exactly what the Harvard administration and many others on this list demand of survivors seeking justice.
I’m extremely impressed with my alma mater, the University of New Hampshire, for its demonstrable best practices in this movement. From awareness raising within sports teams to encouraging bystander intervention to confidential reporting mechanisms, I give major kudos to SHARPP and Jane Stapleton for their incredible work. I hope this program becomes a model for other sexual assault and rape prevention programs around the country.
Certainly, UNH isn’t perfect. And the universities who didn’t make this list aren’t perfect. But this list and the Task Force are a step in the right direction to decreasing incidence of rape on campus. Sexual assault reporting is likely to go up before it goes down, but hopefully universities see that as a sign that they’ve made campuses safer for survivors to come forward while they work to make rape prevention a reality across the board.