Think of college. What's the first word that comes to your head?
I bet it wasn't rape. However, according to the Department of Justice, 25 percent of female college students will get raped before they graduate. One out of seven rapes are gang rapes and 55 percent occur in fraternities. According to the National Organization for Women, 62 percent of female college students will face sexual harassment. For these students, the prevalence of sexual abuse and the lack of repercussions dealt to their assailants have made getting higher education dangerous.
Rape rates remain high on college campuses for three primary reasons. First, acquaintance rape is the most unreported crime in America with less than 5 percent of victims reporting, making it difficult to punish. Second, college authorities are often guilty of repeatedly asking victims whether they're "sure they were raped." This is absurd given that rape has a false accusation rape of just 2 to 8 percent. The questioning creates doubt and discourages victims from pressing charges.
The most significant reason for high rape rates is that according to the Chicago Tribune only 7 percent of reported sex crimes result in arrest -- far below the national average of 25 percent. Less than half will actually be convicted. As a result, only 3 percent of college rapists ever serve time. Because punishment towards rapists is weak, college students continue to commit sexual crimes and students are scarred by harassment, abuse, assault, rape, and gang rape.
The Department of Education is just as guilty of negligence as are colleges. Sixty-three percent of colleges, according to the National Institute of Justice, are in noncompliance with Title IX laws that require them to protect students from sexual assault. However, only one school in 41 years has officially been held in noncompliance and punished accordingly. Instead, most noncompliant schools sign voluntary resolution agreements in which they commit to improving for the future.
This slap on the wrist, however, has proven time and time to fail because it gives schools little incentive to punish rape effectively and increase preventative education and precautions. If the government won't protect us from rape, one of the most detestable crimes of violence, what will they protect us from? Seemingly nothing. Whether we're looking at Congress's recent failure to protecting student interest rates on college debt, its inability to increase job rates for the average college graduate, or its negligence towards college rape, the government is noticeably failing young people across the country -- and it's time to do something serious about it.
Students already have. Over the past few weeks, a change.org entitled "Department of Education: Hold colleges accountable that break the law by refusing to protect students from sexual assault" has gained over 162,000 signatures, including my own. Social media campaigns led by women like Annie Clark, Tucker Reed, and now Alexandra Brodsky have mobilized victims of sexual assault and their allies to protect future students from the harassment to which they were subjected.
On July 15, Alexandra Brodsky and her fellow change.org petitioners protested in Washington D.C., successfully gaining the attention of Under Secretary Martha Kanter.
Students from across the country gathered to bring attention to the high rates of college rape, lobby for increased enforcement of Title IX laws, and hand deliver signed petitions to the U.S. Education Department.
One sign held by a USC protester at a past protest rings true today: "I cannot believe I have to protest this." Colleges, the beacons of academia which advertise their dedication to service, diversity, and equality in every one of their admission's information sessions, should stay true to their own values. They ought to independently spearhead the efforts to combat the rape, harassment, and assault that today plague campuses and scar developing young adults.
A few schools are moving in the right direction. At the University of Maryland, incoming students will now be required to receive a peer-on-peer sexual assault education workshop.
In response to sexual assault on campus, Harvard University has hired a Title IX coordinator to address the issues of sexual assault throughout the entire University. At the University of Michigan, overhaul of administrative policies in response to sexual assault allegations has led to increased reporting of sexual harassment, rape, and other similar sexual crimes.
A lot more action needs to be taken. First and foremost, colleges, no matter how prestigious or how small, need to acknowledge that a sexual harassment exists on campus, putting their students' safety before their bloated reputations. Second, these schools need to actively campaign against sexual harassment on campus mandating preventative discussions and workshops like those recently mandated at the University of Maryland. Finally, when sexual assaults are reported, colleges need to act in a timely manner, hearing out the case and coming to a verdict. If a student is guilty of rape, they should be arrested or expelled. No excuses. No five-page report.
Colleges must create a new culture on campus where rape is not only condemned, but severely
punishment. Meanwhile, the government must begin to enforce Title IX laws.