CREDIT: Christine Baker/The Patriot-News
The vast majority of universities in the United States don’t have adequate policies to help lower the rates of sexual assault on campus, according to a new survey that draws from data from nearly 300 colleges. The survey found that even though campuses are beginning to do a good job raising awareness about the issue of sexual assault, they’re not actually taking the concrete steps to work to prevent it from happening, like providing educational opportunities about consent.
The survey was released on Wednesday by Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER). The student activist group partnered with V-Day, an international initiative to combat violence against women, to form a national database to collect the information that formed the basis for the sweeping review of campus initiatives. Between 2007 and 2012, students from hundreds of colleges across the country submitted their own administrations’ formal and informal sexual assault policies. SAFER and V-Day fact-checked and analyzed the results, grading them across five different domains: survivor resources, educational programming, safety initiatives, formal policy highlights, and compliance with the federal Clery Act.
The groups found that 90 percent of the participating schools have some kind of sexual assault awareness activities. But when it comes to more substantive policies to actively dissuade perpetrators from committing crimes — such as teaching students how to obtain consent or how to intervene when they see something that might turn into an assault — many colleges fall short. Advocates refer to those initiatives as “primary prevention programs,” and only about half of universities have implemented them.
“Awareness-raising activities should be a part of any comprehensive primary prevention program, but they should not be the only work being done around the issue of sexual violence on college campuses,” Tracey Vitchers, the communicators coordinator for SAFER, told ThinkProgress.
Vitchers pointed out that awareness campaigns are typically driven by students themselves, while official policies stay with the institution even after individual student activists graduate. “While students come and go from campus, policy is the one thing that has longevity,” she noted.
Overall, a full 80 percent of the colleges in the survey scored a C or lower on SAFER and V-Day’s comprehensive grading scale. The highest-ranking colleges only achieved a B+. The report also found that one-third of the participating colleges are not adhering to the Clery Act, the federal law that requires university administrations to accurately collect and disclose the information about sexual crimes that occur on campus.
Rebecca Nagle, the coordinator of FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, noted that the survey results reveal there’s still a long way to go before college campuses will truly be a safe place for students. “Going to college should make it more likely for you to graduate with a job. It should not make it more likely for you to graduate with the trauma of sexual assault,” Nagle told ThinkProgress. “All college students, male, female and gender queer, deserve better.”
The issue of sexual assault policies on campus campuses has become fairly contentious over the past year, as student activists have filed an increasing number of formal complaints alleging that their universities are mishandling rape cases. Even though the new report isn’t a comprehensive look at every single four-year college in the country, the two groups hope that the results will help move the ball forward in this area by providing a snapshot of where campuses currently stand.
Other sexual assault prevention organizations agree. “It’s great that this is bringing attention to this issue on campus. Anything that encourages colleges to move towards implementing better treatment or prevention programs for survivors is absolutely a step in right direction,” Katherine Hull, a spokesperson for RAINN, told ThinkProgress.
There are some concrete steps that college campuses could take to start improving. For instance, just 9.7 percent of the schools surveyed provide emergency contraception to sexual assault survivors at no cost, and SAFER and V-Day point out that expanding access to that type of birth control would be a good start. The groups also recommend implementing more bystander intervention programs and making sexual assault information more readily available to students on school websites.
In fact, college students are already incredibly receptive to these types of initiatives. In addition to pushing to hold administrations accountable for failing to respond to rape cases, many student activists are also working to encourage a culture of consent on their campuses. They’re attempting to spread information about healthy sexual relationships, ensure that survivors feel supported, and ultimately break the silence surrounding sexual assault that allows colleges to sweep it under the rug.
Those students could ultimately be the key to moving forward in this area. “Colleges looking to reform their policy should actively involve student activists in the policy reform process. Students will have the strong handle on the campus climate regarding sexual violence and will be able to provide insights that administrators may not be privy to,” Vitchers pointed out.