Preventing and Responding to Campus Sexual Assaults

Successful efforts include mandatory primary prevention programs, educating students about victims’ rights and resources, and training campus personnel who may receive incident reports.

Take a look at your campus. How many students are enrolled? How many of those students are women? Now, cut that number by 75 percent. That is how many women will be sexually assaulted during their time at your college, according to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Sexual Victimization of College Women. Despite this, sexual assault is a crime that is rarely talked about and even more rarely reported (only about 5 percent are reported, according to the DOJ.)

Outrageous? Yes. So how can you intervene and respond to victims of campus sexual assault and create a safer, more supportive campus?

Victims Are Afraid to Report Assaults
Sexual assault is a crime against the whole person. A victim may feel a sense of shame, embarrassment and fear. She may be frightened that her perpetrator will hurt her again or that his friends will harass her. She may fear social ramifications, especially if the perpetrator is well liked on campus, and rightfully so. Many victims have less than supportive responses from friends, classmates and teammates after disclosing their sexual assaults.

Related Article: The 3 Ds of Sexual Assault Prevention

Some victims are unaware that what happened to them was against the law. Some are afraid to report it because they had been drinking or were on drugs at the time of the incident. No matter how large the school may be, the campus community is small. Word may travel fast, and reports of sexual assault may even hit the school newspaper.

Additionally, according to I Never Called It Rape by Robin Warshaw, the vast majority of campus assaults (about 90 percent) are committed by someone the victim knows. Taking all of that into consideration, it is no wonder that most women do not talk about it, let alone report it.

Sexual Violence Exits On a Continuum
Creating a community that does not tolerate sexual violence of any kind is key. While it may seem like an overwhelming task, small steps can help create a campus that is more aware and less tolerant of these crimes. Sexual violence exists on a continuum. On that continuum are cat calls, derogatory or sexist remarks, and rape-supportive jokes. While commonly heard at college, these comments can foster a sexually hostile environment on your campus. Make sure everyone on your campus knows that sexual violence is not tolerated on any point of the continuum.

Mandatory primary prevention programs that happen throughout the year and not just at orientation, can be helpful in reducing sexual assault. They also raise awareness of the options students have if they are assaulted. If education is optional, campuses may not be reaching the students who need this information most.

Focus in recent years has been on engaging the campus community as active bystanders, encouraging them to recognize when something is potentially wrong and step in. The benefits here are many – students learn about sexual violence and are encouraged to make it their issue. It can also create a sense that they are part of something larger and discourage tolerance of sexual violence around them.  

Raising awareness about sexual violence throughout the year keeps the issue on each student’s radar. Consider having open discussions about sexual violence, campaigns (such as the Green Dot Campaign discussed in the side bar on this page), and events such as Take Back the Night (TBtN). TBtN is an international initiative to raise awareness of sexual violence and to give survivors a place where their voices can be heard. Be sure that you are talking about your college’s stance on sexual violence at every opportunity.

Clery Act Includes Bill of Rights
Ensure that students know about their options for reporting sexual assault and seeking help, and what would happen if she or he reported an incident. Victims also have rights. The Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, which is part of the Jeanne Clery Act, affords victims of campus sexual assault reasonable academic and living accommodations, having the same opportunity as the accused to have others present during the disciplinary hearing and being notified of the outcome of the hearing.

These rights are intended to help a victim of sexual assault be able to deal with the assault while continuing her education. Many students are unaware of these rights, and some colleges do not make it clear that these exist.

Related Article: Sexual Assault Prevention Education: Getting the Message Through to Students

Make sure students are educated at least yearly on their rights, and that victims’ rights are listed along with your campus’ sexual assault policy. The list should be located in a place that is easily accessible to students, like the student handbook or prominently placed on the campus Web site.

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