Last week a group of more than 200 students at Pennsylvania's Dickinson College staged a "sit-in" demanding that more be done about sexual assault on their campus. "We all know somebody who has been sexually assaulted on campus. It's too much of a prevalent issue on our campus and it affects our lives directly," senior Tiffany Hwang, 22, of Harrisburg told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The problem of sexual violence is hardly unique to any one campus though. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reports that "between one-fifth and one-quarter" of all female undergraduates will be the victim of a completed or attempted rape during their college careers.
Both the human and dollar costs of this epidemic of violence are profound. The Center for Public Integrity conducted a year-long investigation and found that "Many times, victims drop out of school, while students found culpable go on to graduate." Their investigation also found that in most cases the victim and perpetrator were at least acquaintances rather than strangers, and that the perpetrators were often repeat offenders.
No school is immune, and as pointed out last year by the DOJ it will take all of us pulling together to take on this challenge.
Intimate partner and sexual violence can be found on college campuses across this nation - regardless of how much ivy is on your walls or how big your endowment... none of us are above the reality of this issue, and it is incumbent upon all of us to stand up and take responsibility. -- Tom Perrelli, Associate Attorney General of the United States.
In order for campus communities to effectively face these challenges there needs to be both a greater disclosure of statistical information about how incidents of sexual violence are dealt with on campus, not just how many incidents there were, as well as a more open dialogue. Open forums, where all sides can discuss their perspectives and needs, are one important piece of the puzzle. This accountability and openness will help ensure a more effective and collaborative response to sexual violence.
Of course, our greatest aspirations are for making sure that incidents of sexual violence don't happen. Key to this is better educating students and changing cultural norms so that sexual violence isn't tolerated. Training students on bystander intervention so that when they see signs that an incident of sexual violence is about to happen they know how to safely intervene to prevent it and that when an incident has happened they know how to best support a survivor get the help they need is essential.
Finally, when an incident of sexual violence does happen survivors must know that they will be supported. Colleges and universities as part of ongoing campaigns need to make a concerted effort to ensure that the entire campus community is aware of the options, rights and resources that are afforded to survivors of sexual violence both on and off-campus. Survivors should also be explicitly informed about their options and rights as soon as they come forward to report. This level of support can make all the difference and is crucial to encouraging survivors to come forward to get the help they need.
Federal legislation designed to help campus communities take on these challenges, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act or Campus SaVE Act sponsored by Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), will be reintroduced soon in the 112th Congress. The legislation calls for greater transparency in how sexual violence is dealt with, primary prevention and bystander education, and greater support for victims. Helping establish these baselines will profoundly empower campus communities to better stand up to sexual violence and help us reach a future free of sexual assault on campus.
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