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College Campus Safety: What Parents and Students Should Know

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Why Did Senators Gillibrand and McCaskill Bring Attention to College Campus Sexual Assaults?

In a letter penned to the Senate Committee Appropriations leaders, Senators Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and McCaskill (D-Miss.) called for an increase in the federal funding required for better investigation and appropriate enforcement of sexual assault laws. As stated by Senator Gillibrand:

... the price of a college education should not include a one in five chance of being sexually assaulted. America's colleges and universities are the best in the world. But it is simply unacceptable that they become havens for rape and sexual assault. It is time to take this crisis head on and end the scourge of sexual assault on our college campuses, hold offenders accountable, and keep our students safe.

The Senators call to action bring to focus the guidelines set out in the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act which requires universities and colleges across the country to reveal information about crime on and about their campuses. As an interesting fact, this law is linked to an institution's participation in current federal student financial aid programs (and is applicable to most public and private post secondary educational institutions) and therefore would suggest that these institutions have a vested interest in complying with the Jeanne Clery Act. Furthermore, an amendment to the Clery Act known as the Campus Sexual Assault Victims' Bill of Rights of 1992 requires that colleges and universities develop policies aimed at sexual assault prevention and assurances to victims.

The Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool is administered by the Office of Postsecondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education. This tool makes campus safety and security data available based on certain selection criteria -- from an individual institution/campus to a group of campuses. However, in a 2002 study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice found that "only 36.5 percent of schools reported crime statistics in a manner that was fully consistent with the Cleary Act." As reported by the Center for Public Integrity's report entitled 'Sexual Assault on Campus: A Frustrating Search for Justice (2009) the most often cited reason for non-reporting was institutional barriers on campus. These reasons included:

...administrators who respond to students with disbelief or other inappropriate behavior, and campus judiciary processes that are difficult to understand and follow. Many students who were discouraged because of these barriers transferred or withdrew from their schools, while alleged attackers were almost uniformly unpunished.

As parents and students compare and contrast the merits of their college options they have the right to have an accurate representation of the safety of the campus for its students; and should be aware of these inaccuracies in reporting crime statistics, and keep in mind that:

  • Statistic: 95 percent of attacks are unreported, making sexual assault the 'silent epidemic'. Sexual assault remains the most drastically underreported crime.
  • Statistic: 90 percent of women know the person who sexually assaulted or raped them.

As the aftermath of sexual assault or rape has devastating effects on the student's life -- emotionally, physically, academically and socially -- it is imperative that parents and students make every effort to gain a solid understanding of the safety of a particular campus. In this regard, further information might be obtained from various campus groups -- women's groups, campus safety agents, and the student body. It is prudent to ask students themselves if they feel safe on campus; and if they know if any friends have been victims of crime and find out how the authorities dealt with the incident. It is also a good idea to tour the campus and get an indication of how safe you feel as a visitor. A quick online search can also determine if any of your school choices have been cited in the news as improperly dealing with particular sexual assault or rape cases. For example, as reported in USA Today, as of April 16, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has 53 cases pending where there are allegations of mishandling sexual assault cases on campuses.

In keeping with the Senators' call to action, a new initiative officially unveiled by Vice President Biden on April 29, 2014 focuses on the launch of a website called NotAlone.gov. This website will provide enforcement data on sexual assaults plus request that colleges and universities conduct anonymous surveys of their students by 2016 to get a clearer understanding on the frequency of sexual assaults on campus. In addition to these data collection tools, the Department of Education has outlines new guidelines regarding the ability of campus counselors to speak with assault victims in confidence and also provides more clarity regarding Title IX protection for all students. Also included in the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault is a checklist to develop school sexual misconduct policies and trauma-informed training programs for schools and local law enforcement.

Stay Safe. Live Well.

Avital