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College Campuses, Like Steubenville, Are Grappling With Addressing Rape Culture

By Annie-Rose Strasser  

"College Campuses, Like Steubenville, Are Grappling With Addressing Rape Culture"

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The guilty verdict in the Steubenville rape case has managed to spark a broader national conversation about sexual assault, and the way that a community handles allegations of such behavior. The case in Steubenville raised valid questions about how communities treat victims of rape, who should be responsible for handling sexual assault reports, the culture that surrounds rape and victims, and what, if anything, happens to the perpetrators of sexual crimes. But Steubenville is not the only place that conversation is happening.

College campuses in particular have struggled with how to handle these issues. Like Steubenville, each campus is its own tight-knit community where victims may fear speaking out, which could lead to the community taking sides. Often, it’s easier for people not to believe a victim than to question the perceptions of their friends or classmates. The power dynamic at schools is particularly difficult, too, since administrators have a vested interest in keeping the cases of sexual assault low.

Here’s a look at other Universities where students are begging officials to reassess their rape culture and implement better sexual assault policies, and how officials are responding:

University of North Carolina: UNC’s administration is under investigation by the Department of Education for its handling of sexual assault allegations. Both students and faculty filed a complaint in January alleging that the University mishandled reports from rape victims. One rape victim at UNC says she was told, “Rape is like football, if you look back on the game, and you’re the quarterback, Annie… is there anything you would have done differently?” Another victim is being penalized by the Honor Court at UNC for speaking out about her alleged rape.

University of Maryland: Last month, the University of Maryland’s Senate Executive Committee approved a requirement that all incoming students receive a peer-on-peer sexual assault education workshop. Students hope for final approval of the measure this month. Currently only some students, including those involved in Greek life at UMD, have to take the course.

Occidental College: Students at Occidental College worked with the administration earlier this year to create an alert system for sexual assault where students received an email whenever an assault had occurred on campus. But recently, students were not notified of an assault on campus. The President of the college just released a letter in which he said, “Investigators need time to sort through conflicting accounts in order to provide a clear narrative of what took place.” Students have suggested that this means the president is not inclined to believe victims, a common problem on college campuses. The president committed to releasing a “detailed annual sexual assault report,” but students still feel that his administration has done too little, and are filing a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights.

Harvard University: Harvard victims of sexual assault have very publicly renounced the prestigious school’s handling of their cases in the school’s newspaper, The Crimson. This month, the University hired its first-ever Title IX coordinator, and is in the process of reviewing its policy on sexual assaults. But students still worry that among administrators, “there remains a persistent attitude that rape doesn’t—and can’t—occur at Harvard.” They are asking for a faster review process from administrators and, moreover, a change in culture from the people that victims are expected to go to when they have been raped.

Emerson College: After two rape victims at Emerson launched a Facebook page called, “Emerson Students Stepping Up Against Sexual Assault,” students began to post previously-unreported rape allegations. That page, combined with a letter-writing campaign that asked the President of Emerson to overhaul the school’s sexual assault policy, prompted Emerson’s president last week to issue a statement that he had “requested the office of the Dean of Students to review our current sexual assault support programs and adjudication process.” Results from that review are not yet public.

Oklahoma State University: ThinkProgress has previously reported on the OSU case, in which administrators improperly dealt with rape allegations, choosing not to go to the police so as to protect the alleged rapist’s grades. In the wake of those findings, OSU is now requiring that the cops are called when an assault allegation is made. The school has also created an online system for reporting assaults, and has appointed an independent advocate for victims, “making them aware of their rights and helping them deal with police, medical personnel and university administrators.”

George Washington University: In September, GWU issued a new sexual assault policy that had a 180-day window for reporting sexual assault. The University responded to student anger over the short time frame and issued a slightly more victim-friendly policy, extending the window for filing a complaint to one and a half years.

Thanks to a provision in the Violence Against Women Act, other colleges could also soon be considering overhauls or changes to their sexual assault policies. The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act makes it a requirement that victims receive proper information regarding legal assistance, health services, and counseling. It also expands the compulsory statistics-gathering at schools to include stalking and domestic violence.

There is a serious value in Universities taking a hard look at their sexual assault policies. At the University of Michigan, an overhaul of campus policy led to a jump in the number of reported sexual assaults — and although that may sound at first like a bad thing, it actually means more survivors are coming forward. It’s estimated that far fewer than half of all rapes or attempted rapes are reported, and a 2000 study found that of those committed against women in college, fewer than 5 percent (PDF) were reported to law enforcement.

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