Speak Up, Speak Out: Ending Sexual Violence on Campus
Far too frequently, stories of on-campus rape create a flurry of media coverage, discussion, and debate. It seems like several times a year we are bombarded with a tragic story of a college student being taken advantage; around this time last year we learned the story of two former Naval Academy football players who sexually assaulted a female classmate at an off-campus party. There was also the young woman who was raped during her time at Swarthmore and told reporters that she had to continue to be in classes with her perpetrator. Emily Yoffe of Slate Magazine aptly writes, “As soon as the school year begins, so do reports of female students sexually assaulted by their male classmates.”
Yoffe is right – the start of a new school year often means celebratory parties, rush parties, or just parties for the sake
of parties, which leads students, perhaps freshmen freshly released from their parents’ watchful eyes, getting far too drunk on all those tempting libations. Women are not always the victims of these crimes, however. It is estimated that 20-25% of female students will be the victim of some form of sexual assault during their time in college. It has also been reported that 90% of those women will know their attacker personally. And no, on-campus rape does not always occur in an alcohol-saturated party setting, but findings show that 43% of victims had consumed some amount of alcohol and that 69% of the time the perpetrator was intoxicated.
Yowza. Those are some heavy statistics. It is a little bit difficult to read those stats and not wonder how we can know so much and seem to be doing so little. Why is on-campus rape so prevalent after years of highly-publicized incidences? One of the biggest reasons is that victims rarely press charges against their attackers. They fear social stigma, possible revenge from a reported attacker, and, of course, all of the uncomfortable situations that could occur by sharing a very personal and sensitive story with friends, family members, professors, and school administrators. Thus, less than 6% of victims press charges. Making this crime almost always punishment-free.
Fear not. Something that we must bring more attention to is that for years our government has been working to instate a better framework to protect victims against these fears and end this horrifying trend. In fact there are several powerful laws that have been enacted over decades for exactly these reasons.
It all started in 1972 with Title IX. We may commonly know this as the “sexual discrimination law,” as it states that there must be gender equity in all school-related activities for any institutions that receive federal funding, which is pretty much every University. In the three and half decades since it was passed, it has been subject to more than 20 amendments.
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Title IX
The “Dear Colleagues Letter” expands the act to cover situations of sexual violence as well as detailing how the law can protect students both on and off campus.
The Clery Act, also known as the Campus Security Act, was implemented in 1990. This law mandates all educational institutions to release a report about crime on and near their campuses by October 1st of each year. This allows everyone in the community to be informed about exactly what is happening on campus and, hopefully, how to quell future infractions.
In 1994 the Violence Against Women Act or VAWA was signed into order, providing $1.5 billion dollars for investigation and prosecution of any and all violent crimes against women and mandating restitution on those convicted.
These laws legally protect all students, despite their gender, from any retaliation they may receive after pressing charges on their perpetrator. These laws mandate that those who press charges should receive counseling and support from the school as well as encouragement to continue their studies uninterrupted, even if that means removing the attacker from shared classes. Schools also must have a system in place to handle these situations, which includes disciplinary action for the perpetrator and protection for the victim.
So why is on-campus rape so prevalent after years of highly-publicized incidents?
Because we don’t know our rights. Even if you are not a woman or a college student, it is integral to the abolishment of this heinous trend that we educate ourselves on these powerful laws and become advocates for speaking up, speaking out, and knowing that in doing so we will be protected.