3 Ways Congress Is Getting Serious About Sexual Assault on College Campuses
It’s that time of year! College bound teens are eagerly awaiting acceptance letters (more like emails these days) in hopes of getting into their top choices.
When I was in high school I remember we would all drive home during our lunch period to check the mail. If it was a big envelope we’d bring it back to share the good news. If it was a small envelope, we left it at home to deal with later.
I applied to 18 (yes 18!) schools and my first acceptance letter came from Boston College, the school I ultimately decided to attend.
How did I make that decision?
I assessed the financial aid packages offered, checked the school’s ranking, re-visited a bunch of the schools and in the end felt most at home at Boston College. I walked around the campus and just knew that this was the school for me.
One of the things I’m ashamed to admit is that I didn’t look into was each school’s record on addressing sexual violence on campus. Despite knowing the frightening statistic that 1 in 4 women are victims of attempted or actual sexual assault, this wasn’t something I was worried about. I naively assumed that whatever school I went to would have my back if I was ever one of these women. Luckily, I never had to find out, but too many women do and unfortunately too many schools are not doing victims (survivors) justice.
In fact, according to the National Institute of Justice, 63 percent of universities shirk their legal responsibilities to address sexual violence. That’s not only insane, but completely unacceptable!
Fortunately, several members of the House of Representative have come up with a pretty genius idea to hold schools accountable. In an open letter to U.S. News & World Report, the group has asked that the magazine publicize a school’s sexual assault statistics and consider the results in their college ranking parameters:
Institutions that fail to adequately respond to sexual violence should not receive accolades from your publication. We urge you to include violence statistics in annual Clery reports on campus crime statistics and information about institutions’ efforts to prevent and respond to incidents of campus sexual assault, including whether those institutions that have been found to be in violation of Title IX provisions regarding sexual violence, when ranking colleges and universities.
This is such a great idea, I’m mad I didn’t think of it myself. So many people access U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings, yet one of the biggest concerns for students – campus safety – is not included among their criteria. As a result, at least 5 of the top 10 schools are actually guilty of not handling sexual assaults adequately. It’s high time that rankings not only reflect a school’s academic success but also how well they handle sexual assault reports.
U.S. News & World Report has since responded to the letter with open arms saying that they would be willing to meet with Rep. Jackie Speier who is leading the proposal. U.S News spokeswoman Lucy Lyons told the Huffington Post, “We appreciate Congresswoman Speier’s letter on expanding the Best Colleges methodology to include campus safety, in particular sexual assault, and have featured her comments on usnews.com.” I, for one, will keep a close eye on progress with this one.
This is just one of several ways Congress is getting serious about addressing sexual assault on college campuses. In fact, inspired by efforts over the last year in Congress to address sexual assaults in the military, Senator Claire McCaskill, a former prosecutor of sex crimes and a mother of college-age daughters, is leading a new initiative to combat this problem on college campuses. The senator has launched a survey of hundreds of colleges and universities across the country to gather information on each school’s procedures in handling sexual assaults. Of the project, the first congressional inquiry of this kind, McCaskill says:
I’m asking for detailed answers on how sexual assaults on campuses are reported, how they’re investigated, what resources are available to victims, how students are notified of those services, what kinds of data the schools collect, what security procedures are used, and what relationships the schools have with local law enforcement…My hope is that it will give us a window into exactly how our colleges and universities today act — or sometimes, fail to act — to protect students and bring perpetrators to justice.
Last, but hopefully not least, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is calling on the federal government to spend $109 million to investigate and enforce laws against sexual assault on college campuses. Like McCaskill, Gillibrand sees a similarity between addressing sexual assaults in the military and on college campuses. She herself championed for a bill that would create a new enforcement system outside the traditional chain of command in the military for sexual assaults, but it did not meet the necessary 60 votes to pass the measure.
After realizing that the statistics and stories on college campuses are “just as startling” as those reported on military bases, Gillibrand set her sights on this new initiative which is also backed by McCaskill in addition to 10 other colleagues who joined them in a bipartisan letter to the Senate.
“The price of a college education should not include a 1 in 5 chance of being sexually assaulted,” says Gilligrand. “And it is simply unacceptable that going to college should increase your chance of being sexually assaulted.”
I could not agree more.
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Photo Credit: NazarethCollege