Campus Sexual Assault: What Can We Learn?


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As has been seen in repeated reporting from survivors of sexual assault, at Harvard for example, outdated policies, lame or ineffectual punishment, and lack of enforcement are huge barriers for survivors.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.

Categories: Violence

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8 replies

  1. It is a travesty the lengths universities will go to cover up these “unfortunate” situations. I am so relieved that there is finally going to be some type of consequence for them.

  2. just wrote a article on rape culture myth a while ago, things like this should have been dealt with earlier on. will reblog this later on

  3. Reblogged this on .

  4. A sad reminder to young and old alike that the majority stands to quiet the woman scorned. Silence, in this case, breeds the force and violence that swarm and strike in the University setting.

    Kudos to the media coverage on this story that has shed light on a horrific topic many know about, yet put out of their minds.

    And shame to my two-time Alma Mater, Temple University, who prides itself on keeping the “crime” off campus with endless towers, bike cops and spot lights. Turns out, the most vicious crimes were occuring within the campus walls.

  5. It’s good this issue is not ignored.

    I have just side thought, if/how male assaulting another male, or female assaulting female, fits under gender discrimination?

  6. Was unaware until last weekend that Title IX addressed other issues outside of sports. I should have known that. How about the fact that it took so long for this Administration and all of the previous ones so long to finally address this issue publicly. Terrible.


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