Most Americans don’t believe U.S. colleges and universities are taking adequate steps to address sexual assault on their campuses, according to a new poll conducted by the Huffington Post and YouGov. Just 12 percent of respondents said they think colleges are doing a good job in this area, and 83 percent said they either have “little faith” or “no faith at all” in colleges’ ability to handle an incident of rape among students.
College campuses have increasingly come under fire for failing to punish students who commit sexual crimes, dissuading victims from coming forward, and sweeping rape under the rug. Over the past several years, student activists have banded together to file dozens of federal complaints against their administrations, alleging that college officials are violating gender equity laws with their inadequate sexual assault policies.
Last month, President Obama announced the creation of a new White House Task Force specifically to address the campus sexual assault crisis. The group will partner with student activists on the ground to deliver policy recommendations for making colleges safer. Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers waded into the issue as well, encouraging the U.S. Department to crack down on the universities that aren’t doing a good enough job at preventing and punishing rape.
One of the biggest barriers to improvement in this area is college administrators’ reluctance to publicize the incidences of sexual assault that occur among their students.
“We are still having college campuses trying to push incidences of sexual assault under the rug, and keep it silent. We really don’t need a task force to understand why that’s the case,” Shari Franschman, the director of the Violence Intervention Prevention Center at Bergen Community College, told ThinkProgress. “We all understand why that’s happening. It’s because it brings negative publicity to the college.”
The new polling results confirm Franschman’s point. Sixty one percent of respondents agreed that colleges avoid reporting all sex crimes on campus because they want to keep their numbers low.
Thanks to new federal initiatives, however, university administrations won’t be allowed to continue coming up short in this area. By this March, all college campuses will need to be compliant with new requirements in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that mandate updated reporting systems and educational programs to prevent sexual assaults. Campuses will need to offer rape prevention training to all students and staff, as well as adhere to new student discipline requirements for individuals who are found guilty of rape.
“Most colleges won’t be VAWA compliant right away,” Franschman explained. “They’re coming from the perspective that all the services are out there already. It takes a while for them to understand that the current policies aren’t working. If they weren’t being mandated under VAWA, they wouldn’t change… But if colleges feel like they don’t have a choice and have to do this, then they’ll start looking into it.”