The Fight against Campus Sexual Assault Gets Boost from Its Recent Spotlight and Advocacy Efforts
In the last year colleges and universities have worked to better prevent and respond to campus sexual assault, and the momentum continues to build amid White House attention, implementation of a new law, and ongoing high-profile rape and sexual assault cases. This national spotlight has given the issue the attention it has long deserved.
Studies show that one in five women are sexually assaulted while in college. The U.S. Department of Education has, as of February 11, 39 open investigations into sexual violence on campuses, including such high-profile cases as the University of California, Berkley; Michigan State University; the University of Michigan; and Penn State.
Policy makers and advocates in Washington, D.C., have been paying attention to this issue, which has seen serious progress since March 2013 when the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) passed. The update to the law included important campus safety provisions long advocated by AAUW members.
AAUW’s Anne Hedgepeth has been in the room during the law’s rulemaking sessions, where a group of advocates, students, administrators, and school officials have worked to iron out the details of how schools should follow the law. The requirements will include annual security reports, prevention activities, and disciplinary proceedings. For example, negotiators made efforts to draft clear language on new requirements for school sexual assault prevention programs.
Under VAWA’s campus safety provisions, higher education institutions will be required to provide students with greater resources to help prevent sexual assaults. Additionally, survivors of sexual assault on campuses will be given more information on how to report incidents on campus and what supportive services and counseling are available. Schools will also take steps to improve investigations and disciplinary proceedings on campus to ensure that the rights of the survivors are protected, as well as to keep campuses safe.
Also this year, the White House officially created a Campus Sexual Assault Task Force and issued a new call to action for safer campuses. Through the task force, the Office of Vice President Joe Biden and the White House Council on Women and Girls will lead a new nationwide effort to address campus sexual assault. In coordination with the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, the task force will help ensure that higher education institutions comply with federal laws meant to protect college students.
In February, stakeholders and the public were invited to participate in listening sessions to help inform possible recommendations. AAUW hopes that the task force will emphasize the requirements in the Clery Act and Title IX to prevent campus sexual assault and to appropriately handle sexual assault cases and that it will draw from best practices being used on campuses nationwide.
As Catherine E. Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, said, sexual assaults should be viewed not just as a college issue but as a matter of civil rights. “Do not wait until the next assault to make a change; do not wait until a student files a complaint. Act now,” she said.
Just as AAUW led efforts to make campus safety a part of VAWA, we will continue to lead efforts to stop campus sexual assault by raising awareness of this issue and ensuring that universities comply with federal laws meant to keep students safe. Know your rights on campus.
This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Stephanie Dilworth.