In May of this year, the killing of University of Virginia senior Yeardley Love, allegedly by her boyfriend, focused America's attention on dating violence at college. The elements of this type of horrific tragedy were described in an extensive investigative report series by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), exposing the persistent, long-term mishandling of sexual violence in higher education.
With increased urgency, Security On Campus, Inc. (SOC) and others concerned about campus safety have been working to convert the lessons learned from countless tragedies and miscarriages of justice to bring about positive change in the attitudes and behaviors of individuals and institutions. Consider these research findings:
- Studies estimate that 20 - 25% of college women are victims of forced sex during their time in college and at least 15% of college men (Fisher).
- College women are more at risk for rape and other forms of sexual assault than women the same age but not in college (Sampson).
- Most perpetrators are known to the victim (Fisher).
- A 2002 study revealed that 63.3% of men at one university who self-reported acts qualifying as rape or attempted rape, admitted to committing repeat rapes (Lisak and Miller).
- Ninety percent or more of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault (Fisher).
- Fear of hostile treatment or disbelief by police prevents almost 25% of college rape victims from reporting (Fisher).
- According to the University of New Hampshire Family Research Laboratory, nearly one-third of college students reported physically assaulting a dating partner in the previous 12 months.
The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (Campus SaVE Act), introduced in Congress this week by a bi-partisan group of legislators, represents a comprehensive overhaul of the Campus Sexual Assault Victims' Bill of Rights, a portion of the federal Jeanne Clery Act -- designed to help prevent sexual assault and other forms of intimate partner violence in college and university campus communities, as well as provide an essential framework for institutions to use when an incident is reported to them that will begin a healing process for victims.
While developing this measure, a variety of national experts on sexual violence, along with college officials, were consulted by lead sponsor Rep. Tom Perriello (VA-5). The experts believe that one of the best ways to prevent this violence is through bystander intervention, empowering students to safely step in and intervene in support of one another. University of Virginia President, John T. Casteen III, called for this very thing following Love's murder.
We echo his clarion call. The Campus SaVE Act would add bystander intervention education to the framework institutions already have in place as a part of their Clery Act compliance. SaVE places the focus on primary prevention strategies rather than relying solely on general risk avoidance (such as "don't drink too much" and "don't walk alone at night"), which does not address intimate partner violence in campus communities.
Equally important, victims will know they will be supported when crimes of sexual violence happen and they decide to come forward. The CPI report exposed an outdated system that all too often re-victimizes those who report, thus creating a chilling effect on reporting by other victims. The Campus SaVE Act would guarantee critical rights for victims including prompt, non-arbitrary, and effective proceedings (in many cases victims elect to leave school themselves rather than being forced to encounter their assailants over a protracted period of time) by officials trained in these sensitive issues.
Ask your school President if they support SaVE. Let your administration know how important this issue is to you and your campus community. As Congress considers this measure, please add your valuable voice to the discussion. Ask your Representative to co-sponsor H.R. 6461.
Follow Jonathan Kassa on Twitter: www.twitter.com/seconcampus