Tag Archives: campus sexual assault

How faculty can use syllabi to reduce the campus sexual assault epidemic, via The Huffington Post:

As university presidents, deans, lawyers and counselors are called to task for their missteps in handling the rash of campus sex abuse scandals, the one group that has the most interaction with students is largely left out to sea–their professors. Faculty are rarely informed of individual cases, and are told little about personal issues which lead to students suddenly failing or withdrawing. This occurs despite studies which show that more than with any other group, interaction with their professors provides vital support and strengthens not only students’ academic but also personal outcomes.

While they deal with students primarily in the classroom, faculty are not insensitive to their students’ larger struggles. Is there anything professors can do to complement the work done by counseling centers? There is — and it involves adding only one paragraph to a syllabus.

The campus sexual-assault bill this past summer, plus the many media exposés about the campus rape crisis, have raised awareness of Title IX. Title IX mandates that colleges receiving federal funding provide gender equity, not just in sports, but in all areas of campus life, meaning that all students should be able to study in an atmosphere free of harassment, sexual violence, and gender discrimination.

By taking the simple measures of incorporating Title IX language into syllabi and giving students the names and numbers of the primary campus resources, educators can do their part to provide support for victims and help end the epidemic of campus sexual violence.

Consider the example of Laura Dunn.

Dunn was just a freshman at the University of Wisconsin when her life changed forever. The dedicated student-athlete was out drinking with new friends from her crew team when two of her male team members offered to take her to another party. Instead, she says, they drove her to their place and took turns sexually assaulting her as she drifted in and out of consciousness, begging them to stop.

Laura’s story is not unusual. Sexual violence has been labeled by the Centers for Disease Control as a major public-health problem, affecting approximately one-fifth of American women. The percentages are staggering for younger women; it is estimated that between 20 to 25 percent will be the victims of a completed or attempted rape during their college careers alone. College men are not immune either; 6 percent will be victims of some form of sexual assault during their college tenure. That said, sexual violence remains a gendered crime, with most victims women and most perpetrators men.

According to a 2007 report, first-year students like Laura are especially susceptible, particularly during the first three months of their freshman year. Not wanting to accept the fact that she had been raped and not knowing that she had the right to report, Dunn, like so many survivors, stayed silent. For over a year she told no one, while she fought to focus on her schoolwork. Her grades dropped, she lost weight, she struggled with nightmares, and she broke up with her boyfriend, whom she never told about her attack.

But then things changed. During a summer philosophy class she was finally given the tools to take back control over her life. While discussing how rape is used as a weapon of war, the professor stopped the class to mention that sexual assault is also prevalent on college campuses, and that the dean of students was required by Title IX to handle assault cases. As soon as class was over, Laura went to the dean of students and reported, launching a two-year process that would prove stressful but would lead to her decade of work in survivor advocacy.

Laura Dunn’s case reveals the value of faculty involvement. Professors are not substitutes for trained counselors, but because of their daily interactions with students, they constitute the most obvious source for early intervention. This process can begin by simply incorporating into the syllabus relevant language, such as:

Title IX makes it clear that violence and harassment based on sex and gender are Civil Rights offenses subject to the same kinds of accountability and the same kinds of support applied to offenses against other protected categories such as race, national origin, etc. If you or someone you know has been harassed or assaulted, you can find the appropriate resources here …

These resources should include the Title IX coordinator, counseling services, a rape crisis center, and campus police. Confidentiality is of the essence. The Campus Sexual Assault Study indicated that when students know they can talk confidentially, they are more likely to report. Furthermore, since many universities and colleges have poor resources for students and are even under federal investigation, it is suggested that other resources besides campus authorities be included. A few good organizations areKnow Your IX, End Rape On Campus, SurvJustice, the Clery Center for Security On Campus, and Not Alone.

A statement in a syllabus might also send a message of accountability to potential perpetrators. In a now-classic study, the authors found that the perceived threat of formal sanctions (being dismissed from the university or arrested) had a significant deterrent effect on potential perpetrators of sexual assault. In a 2002 study that utilized self-reporting, the majority of undetected rapists were found to be repeat rapists, and the results of this study were replicated in a subsequent 2009 study of Navy personnel. These studies suggest that many perpetrators continue to offend because they have not been caught and do not think they will ever be caught, or if caught, sanctioned. Depriving them of the culture of silence may limit their actions by increasing their fear of the consequences.

Thus, a statement in a syllabus could send a multipronged message: Survivors have the information needed, and the campus community as a whole is watching and will hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

Many departments now mandate that syllabi include the university’s religious-holiday policy, the code of academic integrity, and contact information for disability support services. Since a quarter of female students are or will be survivors of sexual violence, a statement on Title IX is just as important. One simple paragraph could provide students with the tools they need to come forward and report the violence they have suffered. The more we normalize the conversation, the easier it becomes.

Karen Dawisha is a professor of Political Science at Miami University – Ohio

Note: A version of this article appeared in The Chronicle Of Higher Education.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

Lady Gaga joins campaign to tackle sexual assaults on US campuses, via The Guardian:

Lady Gaga has penned an open letter alongside the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, to support a new law to protect university students from the “epidemic of sexual violence” on campuses.

“Every fall, young men and women head off to colleges across the country, dreaming of bright futures and the experience of a lifetime,” the piece, published on Billboard reads. “They’ve worked hard for the chance to become a part of their new campuses, and they set out full of hope and excitement.”

Unfortunately, for thousands of these students, that dream turns into a nightmare because of the unacceptable epidemic of sexual violence that is currently plaguing colleges and universities. It is a shocking reality that many in academia, government, and society in general still refuse to acknowledge.

On 17 June, New York lawmakers will decide whether to pass Cuomo’s Enough is Enough policy, which aims to combat sexual assault at all universities and private institutions in the state.

Lady Gaga, who told Howard Stern in 2014 that she had been sexually assaulted when she was 19 by a producer 20 years her senior, has backed the legislation. In the run up to the decision, Cuomo has been screening the documentary Hunting Ground, about sexual assault on college campuses. It features a new Lady Gaga song, Till It Happens to You.

The extract concludes:

“Thankfully, New York has an opportunity to stand up for its students, and take the critical steps toward facing this crisis head on. The bill currently beforeNew York state legislature will address the issue of sexual violence on college campuses, giving the state the nation’s strongest laws to target campus sexual assault. This is a campaign that will protect students, and it’s exactly what we need.

“By passing legislation such as the bill currently before the New York state legislature, we can turn the tide on this issue so that students can realise their dreams on campuses that are safe spaces. That’s why we are joining together to take a stand against sexual assault on college campuses. Quite simply, enough is enough.”

An Effective College Response to Sexual Assault Provides Additional Recourse for Survivors, by Marty McIntyre, via The SunJournal: 

[Article 1 of 4 during April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month]

For the past few years, increased attention has focused on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. The statistics are horrifying. The federal government has established new regulations to guide colleges in effectively preventing and responding to sexual assault.

One frequently debated issue is whether colleges should have their own judicial proceedings regarding sexual assault, or whether sexual assaults should only be adjudicated through the criminal justice system.

As an advocate for survivors of sexual violence, I believe that having a campus reporting option available to students is important and serves as a strong addition to the option of a criminal justice report.

Not all adults who are sexually assaulted report the crime to the police. While there are many reasons for not reporting, for college students the decision may be more complex. If they live elsewhere, reporting the crime ties them to a criminal justice process in the college community that may take a year or more to resolve and could require them to return for some proceedings during times that they might not otherwise be on campus. And, during the time they are on campus, the survivor could be in proximity to the person who assaulted them, possibly running into them regularly in the course of their daily campus life.

Colleges obviously cannot do a criminal adjudication on sexual assault or any other behavior that is against the law. That is the purview of our criminal justice system. It is the responsibility of colleges, however, to determine if a student has violated the school’s established code of conduct.

In the case of an alleged sexual assault, the college would determine if the accused student violated the code of conduct which prohibits sexual assault. If the determination is yes, the college can impose sanctions on that student, including expulsion from the college. Because of the seriousness of the charge and the possible penalties, colleges have an obligation to implement systems that are informed, objective and fair to all involved.

Colleges have come a long way in the strategies employed to investigate these assaults. Many colleges used to have a student conduct board made up of various combinations of faculty, staff and students. Colleges typically provided training to those boards to understand and evaluate the different issues they might see during the year, but these boards were often made up of people who had familiarity or relationships with the accuser or the accused (potentially causing bias) and/or who were not fully prepared to evaluate the complex issues they would review.

Many colleges have now changed their approach when addressing charges of sexual assault. Many employ an independent investigator who has special training in assessing these cases and who has no bias toward the case. The investigators present their findings and their recommendations to some sort of hearing board within the college. While accusers and the accused would be interviewed by the investigator, they may not ever have to testify before the hearing board. This process has ensured more effective, specialized assessment, less chance for bias, and less trauma for the people involved.

The benefit for sexual assault victims can be enormous.

First, they can choose to report the crime to the police AND report the assault through the campus system, giving them twice the options of a sexual assault survivor living in the community.

When a sexual assault survivor reports the assault through their college, they can often arrange for accommodations such as being excused from classes for a period of time or measures taken to ensure the safety and protection of the survivor. The campus response process generally happens more quickly than the criminal justice process, giving the survivor a more timely resolution. And, if the accused is found to have violated the student conduct code and is expelled from the college due to the seriousness of the violation, the sexual assault survivor is able to proceed with their college career without fear of that person influencing their experience.

Our local colleges welcome our college advocate onto their campuses to provide support and guidance to sexual assault survivors. The advocate can help sexual assault survivors to understand the options they have for reporting the assault to law enforcement and on their campus, and provide support for them through either or both of those processes.

Sexual assault is a horrendous experience wherever it happens. An effective college response system should not take the place of a criminal justice adjudication, but provide another, additional recourse for survivors.

Marty McIntyre is executive director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Responses Services, serving Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.

Dealing with rape on college campuses

Finally dealing with campus rape means that some men will have it tougher, via The Guardian, written by Jessica Valenti:

The epidemic levels of rape on university campuses has a lot of people really worried. Unfortunately, they’re worried that campuses are going “too far” in their effort to punish rapists; that young men will be wrongly accused; that campus sex policies will criminalize consensual sex; that the rape epidemic is more ideological rhetoric than actual lived experience.

They are worried, it seems, that stopping campus rape and helping the victims of it – most of whom are women – will hurt young men.

It seems odd that, at a moment when we’re finally making headway on campus assault – with White House-backed initiatives, rape victims sharing their stories, and students mobilizing to make their campuses safer and more responsive to sexual violence – the response from some quarters is to worry for men’s futures rather than celebrate women’s potential safety.

No one wants to see innocent people accused of horrible crimes, but there is a distinct lack of evidence that young men on college campuses – even the ones who have raped women – are suffering any harm due to the increased focus on ending rape.

Rape remains a chronically underreported crime, and only 2% of rapists ever spend a day in jail. On college campuses, only 10 to 25% of rapists are expelled, less than half are suspended and many are given university-mandated “punishments” like writing a research paper or an apology letter.

So why the ramped-up concerns for men?

Maybe it’s that we’re not used to seeing gender justice in action, so it feels strange and new … and therefore off. Alexandra Brodsky, a co-director of anti-rape organization Know Your IX, compared the situation to someone who has unwittingly been living in an apartment with a tilted floor their whole life.

“You become used to that, so if you wake up one day and your floor is level, it’s going to feel uneven,” she told me.

Others, like Tracey Vitchers of Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER) believe the renewed focus on accused rapists’ rights is simple denial. “It comes from not wanting to believe that campus sexual assault is as prevalent as survivors, advocates and, frankly, research, demonstrate it to be”, Vitchers told me.

I also believe that the disproportionate worry for accused rapists over their victims boils down to a fundamental distrust of women. It is less worry that men will be wrongly accused, and more a lasting, ill-informed “certainty” that women lie about rape. After all, the most controversial news story of campus rape this year – an irresponsibly-reported assault alleged by a student at the University of Virginia – didn’t even involve a young man was brought up on campus or criminal charges. The public outrage stemmed from the belief that the woman lied about her attack.

The rape truthers’ belief that any increasing efforts to stop rape and hold more accusers accountable will hurt innocent men is, at best, magical thinking. While multiple female rape victims at 89 different colleges have filed suits citing Title IX violations and unfair treatment by school administrators, there has not been one recent public case of a wrongly-accused male student who suffered significant, permanent legal harm at the hands of a malicious accuser. That hasn’t stopped people from trying to identify one, though.

The man accused of sexually assaulting two students and then raping Emma Sulkowictz – the Columbia University student who started the “Carry that Weight” performance protest – has tried appealing to anti-feminist media to claim his life was ruined, though no mainstream media published or broadcast his name until he came forward. And Columbia found the man not responsible, allowing him to remain on campus. A Washington Post column late last year fretted about the dangers of campus sexual assault policies for young men, yet focused on the case of a young man who was also found not responsible. How did the system fail him, exactly?

The concerns over due process in campus adjudication procedures are also misplaced. In The New York Times, Judith Shulevitz bemoans the Department of Education guidelines that instruct schools to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard in rape cases, as if such a thing is unheard of. But this is the same standard of evidence that’s required when a rape victim sues her attacker in civil court. Shulevitz also warns that schools risk losing federal funds if they don’t adhere to the DOE’s rules, but no school has ever had their funding taken away because of a Title IX violation.

Too many of us are more comfortable taking on imaginary problems rather than real ones – but reflexive thought experiments don’t stop rape or address the real underlying problems. They only do a disservice to the victims.

A new attempt at preventing rape on campus

The Power Of The Peer Group In Preventing Campus Rape, via NPR:

Many forces can drive a male college student to commit sexual assault. But one of the most important may be the company he keeps.

A number of studies, on college campuses and elsewhere, have shown that having friends who support violence against women is a big risk factor for committing sexual assault. Now prevention efforts are exploring the idea that having male friends who object to violence against women can be a powerful antidote to rape on college campuses.

“One of the things that matters most to boys and emerging adult men is the opinion of other men,” says John Foubert, a researcher at Oklahoma State University who studies rape prevention among young men.

One of the most well-known studies on perpetrators of campus sexual assault is psychologistDavid Lisak’s 2002 “undetected rapists” study. Because few campus rapes are ever reported, much less prosecuted, Lisak looked for sex offenders hiding in plain sight at University of Massachusetts in Boston.

He surveyed about 1,800 men, asking them a wide range of questions about their sexual experiences. To learn about sexual assault, he asked things like, “Have you ever had sex with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used physical force?” When the results came back, he was stunned.

All told, 120 men in the sample, or about 6 percent of the total, had raped women they knew. Two-thirds of those men were serial rapists, who had done this, on average, six times. Many of the serial rapists began offending before college, back in high school.

Other studies at colleges and in the military have since found similar numbers — usually somewhere around 10 percent of men admitting to either an attempted rape or a rape, with a significant proportion of them reporting a history of repeated offenses.

“I was forced, really, to accept that these are college students, but there is this small percentage of college students who are sex offenders,” says Lisak. “They are behaving like sex offenders. They are sex offenders.”

Together, the 120 men in Lisak’s study were responsible for 439 rapes. None was ever reported.

But Lisak had no problem getting details about how the men carefully planned and executed their assaults. They’d often ask a girl to come to a party, saying it was invite-only, a big deal to a nervous freshman. Then they’d get her drunk to the point of incapacitation so they could have sex with her.

In an excerpt from one of Lisak’s interview transcripts, a college student using the pseudonym Frank talks about how his friends would help him prep for an assault:

“We always had some kind of punch, you know, like our own home brew. We’d make it with a real sweet juice, and just pour in all kinds of alcohol. It was really powerful stuff. The girls wouldn’t know what hit them.”

Alcohol was the weapon of choice for these men, who typically saw themselves as college guys hooking up. They didn’t think what they had done was a crime.

“Most of these men have an image or a myth about rape, that it’s some guy in a ski mask wielding a knife,” says Lisak. “They don’t wear ski masks, they don’t wield knives, so they don’t see themselves as rapists.”

In fact, they’d brag about what they had done afterwards to their friends. That implied endorsement from male friends — or at the very least, a lack of vocal objection — is a powerful force, perpetuating the idea that what these guys are doing is normal rather than criminal.

But in a group of guy friends, Oklahoma State’s Foubert says, the opinions that can end up influencing behavior are often just what a guy thinks his friends think.

“Let’s say you have a peer group of 10 guys,” says Foubert. “One or two are constantly talking about, ‘Oh, I bagged this b- – -h.’ Many of the men listening to that are uncomfortable, but they think that the other men support it through their silence.”

What if that silence could be broken before college — as early as high school?

At a few high schools in Sioux City, Iowa, students are starting to find out what that might look like.

MVP, or Mentors in Violence Prevention, matches upperclassmen with groups of incoming freshmen. Throughout the school year, the older kids facilitate discussions about relationships, drinking, sexual assault and rape.

Xavier Scarlett, a rising senior and captain of the football, basketball and track teams, says he tries to get inside the heads of the freshmen guys he mentors. They talk through various scenarios. What does it mean to hook up with a drunk girl when you’re sober? Would you be letting down your guy friends if you didn’t hook up in that situation?

And they spend a lot of time on that scenario Lisak heard about over and over in his U-Mass Boston study. You’re at a big party. You see a guy you know with an extremely drunk girl, and he’s trying to leave with her.

Scarlett says he talks through all the options with the freshmen in his group. “Do I let them just leave? Or do I grab him, or do I grab her? Or do I get some friends? If I say something, then will my friend judge me?”

These conversations are tough, often awkward, in high school. A lot of the mentors still haven’t confronted this kind of situation in real life by the time they graduate. But once they get to college, says Iowa State University junior Tucker Carrell, a former MVP mentor, the scenarios come to life.

Tucker says that he’s not afraid to confront his Delta Tau Delta fraternity brothers when they talk about women in a way that makes him uncomfortable. He’ll sit down with them, sometimes even bringing a woman they’ve hit on into the conversation.

The day we talked, Tucker said he’d used his MVP training to intervene in a situation just the night before.

This was at a going-away party at a bar in Ames, Iowa. Tucker noticed that a friend’s female cousin was pretty drunk. She was over by the jukebox with two guys who weren’t part of the party. They were strangers. Tucker says he was paying attention to her body language, and something didn’t look right. She looked almost cornered.

So Tucker grabbed a buddy, and they went over to the jukebox together.

“We were like, ‘Hey, let’s pick a song.’ So we picked a song. And then we were like, ‘Do you want to go to the table and see your cousin?’ “

They steered her back toward their group of friends.

And that was it. The night went on as if nothing had happened.

Lisak says by the time 18-year-olds leave for college, they need to be hearing this kind of challenge from their guy friends.

“This idea that getting somebody intoxicated, plastered, so that you can have sex with them is an idea we just simply are going to have to confront and erode,” he says. “Just like we have eroded the idea that it’s fine to get drunk and get in your car.”

There are only a few dozen high schools around the country that offer the MVP program. It’s been used in high schools around Sioux City, Iowa, for over a decade now. Surveys of participating students suggest their attitudes about sexual assault, and intervening in dangerous situations, shift after they go through the program, but researchers have yet to evaluate how effective it is in reducing incidents of sexual violence.

John Foubert, the psychologist in Oklahoma, says it’s important to remember that 90 percent of men have never committed a rape. The key is opening their eyes to what’s going on with the other 10 percent, so they can see it and intervene.