During the month of April, colleges and universities will host educational and awareness-raising events and activities to observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In their 2016 article “How Prevalent is Sexual Assault on College Campuses?” authors Lisa Fedina, Jennifer Holmes, and Bethany Backes write that women; first -and-second-year students; sorority members; racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities; and students with a history of sexual victimization have a higher prevalence of being sexually assaulted. For their study based on 15 years-worth of data, the authors concluded school administrations should have an understanding of the prevalence and types of sexual victimization occurring on their campuses.
College administrators can’t monitor every campus activity. Maintaining a healthy, respectful, and inclusive campus environment is often predicated on the choices and maturity of students. College administrators are responsible for establishing a campus culture that values the safety of every student—and for holding students and faculty who jeopardize that safety accountable.
When institutions prioritize creating a culture of sexual assault prevention and awareness for everyone, the risk for sexual assault is diminished. Fedina, Holmes, and Backes suggest that there are cultural and contextual differences between small private liberal arts schools, large public universities, community colleges, and trade schools, but every administration has a responsibility to know their student culture and the prevalence of sexual assault at their institution.
The American Association of University Women posits that many higher education institutions underreport sexual assaults on campus. However, reporting campus sexual assault is fundamental to institutional integrity and foundational to inculcating a climate of awareness. The Clery Act requires any college or university that receives federal funds to disclose crime statistics and security information. The Clery Act and Title IX, which prohibit sex discrimination in education, are measures put in place to protect women and victims of interpersonal crimes on campus.
A January 2018 article, “How Colleges Foretold the #metoo Movement” in The Atlantic suggests that in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, colleges that had historically underreported or not reported on-campus sexual assault knew for years that “high rates” of these offenses occurred on campus. The dramatic culture shift created by women and victims coming forward and recounting their traumas opened the proverbial floodgates and deluged campus Title IX offices.
Many colleges are recommitting to campus safety by including the personal safety of students and responsiveness to their needs as a core element of organizational health. For those administrations interested in evaluating or updating their policies and procedures on responding to and reporting campus sexual assault, here are a few recommendations from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP):
- The entire campus community must address campus sexual assault and each constituency should be represented in the policy making process, and once a policy is established it must be available to everyone.
- The institution needs to be familiar with the local laws governing sexual assault and have a working relationship with local law enforcement and social service agencies.
- Policies must be clear and unambiguous.
- Guidelines for reporting sexual assault should be clear and include name(s), titles, and contact information.
- To combat the underreporting of sexual assault, institutions must provide multiple options for reporting: direct reporting by name; confidential reporting; anonymous reporting.
- One person or office experienced in the appropriate area(s) should be identified to coordinate the procedural process of allegations of sexual assault.
- Required prevention programs for all entering and transferring students.
Through the accurate, timely reporting by colleges and universities of sexual assault and implementing the measures suggested above, college can be a safe place of inclusion, knowledge, and growth for all.
authored by Sandra Grady, Fahrenheit Creative Group