In April, a group of Swarthmore College students filed a federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, alleging their elite university has created a “hostile environment” on campus where victims of sexual crimes don’t feel comfortable coming forward. That complaint has spurred the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to open a formal investigation into the allegations.
Swarthmore is just one of a mounting number of U.S. colleges that have recently faced federal complaints over their administrations’ sexual assault policies. Students across the country have come forward to accuse their campus administrators of perpetuating a victim-blaming rape culture that dissuades survivors from coming forward, allows sexual predators to escape serious punishment, and ultimately attempts to sweep the issue under the rug.
At Swarthmore specifically, 12 students allege that the college is persistently underreporting the number of rape cases that occur on campus — a violation of federal law. Students also say they don’t receive support from their administrators when they talk to them about sexual assaults. One of the students who filed the complaint, Hope Brinn, said she was repeatedly asked what she did to “provoke the behavior” after she reported being sexually harassed. Brinn also said university officials told her they didn’t need to pursue judicial action against her male assailant because his admission that he was guilty of harassing her “was punishment enough.”
Brinn told the Huffington Post that she hopes the investigation into Swarthmore will spur action. In a promising move, the university has already pledged to conduct an external review of it sexual assault policies. Similar slow progress is being made at other college campuses where students are pushing to combat rape culture.
“Students are talking, and the government is listening,” Brinn pointed out.
However, the progress is often too slow to effect real change on college campuses, and many student activists aren’t satisfied. On Monday, a group of sexual assault prevention advocates will rally at the Department of Education in Washington, DC. They are planning to deliver a petition that demands the federal government take more serious steps to crack down on the universities that are violating the law by failing to address sexual assault.