As students all over the country return to college campuses, discussions about sexual assault are being held nationwide. These discussions were prompted by the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE) signed into law in March 2013. The SaVe Act amends the Clery Act, an act named after a young co-ed who was raped and subsequently murdered in her college dormitory in 1986. Clery’s parents championed their daughter’s death and the result was an act that, among other things, required campus authorities to be transparent in the reporting of sexual assault cases.
The U.S. Department of Education began enforcing the SaVE act in March of this year. Amendments require any educational entity that receives federal aid to comply with the expanded guidelines. These guidelines include annual reporting of all incidents of sexual assault as well as dating violence, stalking and domestic violence.
The act further requires schools to publicize policies regarding the rights of college students and the procedures for reporting alleged sexual assault incidents. Additionally, colleges and universities must implement reasonable prevention measures. They must also have a process for investigating sexual assault allegations and taking swift and unbiased disciplinary action should it be warranted.
Sexual assault on college campuses has become a national concern. According to a study funded by the National Institute of Justice, almost 14 percent of 6,800 college women surveyed admitted to being the victim of sexual assault at least one time during their college years. Almost five percent of the respondents reported being physically forced to have sex, while a significant number report being assaulted while intoxicated or under the influence of illegal drugs. The overall intent of the study was to gather information that will help target effective interventions with the goal of changing the numbers.
At some institutes of higher learning, robust policies and procedures are already in place. On other college campuses, discussions about ramping up current sexual assault policies and procedures are just being started. Educators at the University of San Francisco believe that a cultural change must take place. They have developed an educational program called “Think About It,” a program developed with the input of students using real life situations. The idea behind the program is to have open and honest discourse about choices regarding relationships and drug and alcohol use. The goal of the discourse is to help students uncover what healthy relationships entail.
University of Virginia officials believe that they have solid policies in place. In its efforts to help reduce violence and sexual assault on campus, they have added a position that serve a preventative role. There are also plans to carry out “climate surveys” that assess the needs of the school. Third year student and Chair of the Sexual Assault Prevention Coalition, Sara Surface, feels that, “As far as how the University handles sexual assault, there is no one right answer.”
While there may be no one size fits all answer for every school, the issue of sexual violence on U.S. college campuses is being scrutinized like never before. The passing of the SaVE Act and its subsequent enforcement of the expanded guidelines could see a decrease in the number of sexual assault cases. It could also bring about changed mindsets of college and university students, as is the hope at the University of San Francisco. Discussions about decreasing, and potentially eliminating, sexual assault and violence certainly seem to be a step in the right direction.
By Constance Spruill