In an exciting move, Vice President Joe Biden kicked off Sexual Assault Awareness Month by clarifying and correcting the existing guidelines for universities receiving Title IX funding on how to address issues of sexual assault. These guidelines are not new, but an official reminder of their existence is important, especially since Yale is currently being investigated for violating them.
“Students across the country deserve the safest possible environment in which to learn,” said Vice President Biden. “That’s why we’re taking new steps to help our nation’s schools, universities and colleges end the cycle of sexual violence on campus.”
Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, also appeared with Biden at the University of New Hampshire, where they presented the guidelines. If you’re interested in watching the whole speech, it’s available on Youtube. The gist, though, is that the school has a responsibility to internally investigate sexual assault allegations, even if criminal charges haven’t been filed and needs an employee whose job it is to make sure that the university is complying with Title IX. The report, which takes the form of a letter, also highlights schools’ responsibilities to prevent the “hostile environment” created by rape:
“If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment,” the letter reads, “Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence and address its effects.”
The report also cites disturbing statistics from a 2007 Justice Department report, which claimed that 1 in 5 college women and 1 in 16 college men are victims or attempted or actual sexual assault.
As a college student, it’s really heartening to see the vice president stepping up to address these issues, which are often not handled effectively or openly by universities. These institutions are usually more concerned with protecting their image (which involves denying that sexual assault occurs) than they are in seeking justice for the survivors of sexual assault. I’ve written in the past year about two sexual assault cases at Notre Dame which show just how damaging a school’s insensitivity to these issues can be. It’s great to know that Biden is stepping up to make sure that these guidelines are enforced, and that he is willing to publicly acknowledge that universities need to do much, much more to make sure that sexual assault is correctly addressed on their campuses.
Photo from Flickr.