More than 20 percent of undergraduate female students at the University of Michigan say they experienced some sort of nonconsensual sexual behavior in the past year, and 12 percent say that part of the nonconsensual sex involved penetration, the Detroit Free Press reports.
To make matters worse, less than 5 percent of the women who experienced nonconsensual sexual behavior reported the incident to the university, mainly because they didn’t want to get the person responsible in trouble, felt embarrassed or ashamed, or didn’t think the university would do anything.
Clearly some education is required to encourage these women to report the incidents and get the help they need. Crackdowns on campus sexual assault have proven ineffective lately, perhaps because of the role alcohol plays in the crime. Cracking down on the effects of underage drinking may not be as effective as cracking down on drinking itself as a root cause of sexual assault.
Although the Michigan survey didn’t show this and I’m not prone to stereotyping, I suspect many sexual assault victims were drunk or on drugs, as were the perpetrators.
Earlier this year, a Stanford swimmer was charged with raping an unconscious young woman outside a fraternity party. That same day, two Vanderbilt University football players were convicted of gang-raping a classmate who also had lost consciousness before the attack, the Oakland Tribune wrote. Both cases involved heavy drinking.
But just because heavy underage drinking is involved in the crime doesn’t mean we should fight sexual assault on college campuses just by going after underage drinking. For many reasons, that could be exactly the wrong approach to use if we want to prevent sexual assault on campus: it forces a mentality of blaming the victims who, especially if they were drunk at the time, certainly didn’t invite an assault or consent to a rape.
For instance, Dartmouth and a few other colleges have announced hard-liquor bans, looking at restricting alcohol as one way to combat rape. Getting students to follow those rules, however, is another matter entirely.
“I’ve never been to or heard of a party where those rules are actually followed,” the Tribune quoted University of California, Berkeley, student Meghan Warner, who leads the organization Greeks Against Sexual Assault, as saying. She and other advocates say linking alcohol consumption to rape isn’t the right way to do it, because it blames intoxicated victims, suggests they failed to protect themselves, and makes excuses for their assailants.
Even women express the opinion that when the victim is drunk, she shares more responsibility in the crime of sexual assault than when she’s sober, according to a study published in 2012 in the journal Violence and Victims. All college students, however, said they would provide more emotional support for the victim if she and the perpetrator were both drunk, compared to the level of support they would provide if only the perpetrator were drunk.
At Michigan, officials have promised to review the survey results, which asked about 3,000 UM females whether or not they felt safe on campus and found that about one-fourth did not. “We will need to review this data with care … and plan our next evolution of caring for our students,” the Free Press quoted Holly Rider-Milkovich, director of the university’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness office, as saying.
“It gave us a way to understand the nature of the problem we didn’t understand before,” university President Mark Schlissel was quoted as saying, citing the number of students who said verbal pressure was used in their sexual assault. “As a university president, a physician-scientist, an educator and a father, the issue of sexual misconduct keeps me awake at night. … I’ve heard painful stories from survivors of sexual assault on our campus. They shared with me what they went through and have asked for my help. We are adding staff to help us develop and deliver the best possible education and prevention programs, to speed up sexual misconduct investigations, and to help counsel and support survivors.”
In Maryland, the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention announced a $71,288 grant on June 25 to the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Associated Press reports, here via the Baltimore Sun. The funds will help pay for an attorney’s salary, operating and travel expenses, so she can better train colleges, rape crisis centers, and police agencies on the requirements of a new Maryland law.
The grant will help fund the coalition’s Sexual Assault on College Campus program, which has two goals: to develop Maryland-specific training, curricula, and technical assistance materials, and to create model policies and protocols to ensure that victims of sexual assault are given accurate information about their legal options in Maryland’s criminal justice system.
The Maryland General Assembly last spring passed and Gov Larry Hogan signed into law House Bill 571, which requires colleges to pursue agreements with local rape crisis centers, MCASA, or both, for the purpose of developing a working relationship between the rape crisis centers and the college campus they serve. In addition, Maryland colleges are required to develop agreements with their local law enforcement entities and college law enforcement entities to set in place a system to preserve evidence of sexual assault so cases can be pursued in court.
“MCASA will use this funding to help Maryland colleges and universities improve their response to sexual assault survivors,” said Lisae Jordan, executive director and counsel for MCASA, in a press release. “One in five women experience sexual assault during their time at college, and we are grateful that GOCCP is supporting efforts to change this.”
“Our mission is to find every resource available to help and restore victims of crime in Maryland,” said Christopher B Shank, executive director of the GOCCP. “Working to stop sexual violence on Maryland college campuses is a priority in our goal to prevent violence against women everywhere in our state.”
Federal legislation is in the works and may come up for a vote in the next few days. One bill’s sponsor, Sen Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, talked about it at a panel event in her state in February, saying the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, or CASA, would help to prevent sexual assault on college campuses by holding universities accountable. The bill would:
- Establish new campus resources and support services for student survivors
- Ensure that college and university staff meet minimum training standards to address sexual assault cases
- Create historic transparency requirements to provide students, parents and officials with an accurate picture of the problem, and of how campuses are addressing it
- Require a uniform student disciplinary process across campuses, and coordination with law enforcement
- Incentivize colleges and universities to address the problem by establishing enforceable Title IX penalties and stiffer penalties for Clery Act violations
The bill has 33 cosponsors in what appears to be a strong bipartisan support base, but critics of the bill, including a few women’s organizations and the lobbyist American Council on Education, say the bill would spin the wheels of colleges and universities, spending new money on “useless ‘training and education’ programs, and contracts to provide ‘confidential’ advisory services. … It’s classic co-optation,” opponents write.
When Pennsylvania passed a law similar to Maryland’s new law in 2010, requiring that colleges and universities educate students on the dangers of sexual assault and what steps they can take to prevent it, the National Sexual Violence Research Center in Enola, northwest of Harrisburg, estimated that 20 percent to 25 percent of women are victims of forced sex during their time in college, and 90 percent or more of those victims do not report the assault.
“Most people won’t claim they’ve been sexually assaulted because it has such a stigma associated with it,” the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review quoted Dominique Benzio, a member of the University of Pittsburgh’s peer-to-peer sexual assault prevention education program, as saying. He added that he believed the best weapon against sexual assault is education, painting a very different picture from the stance assumed by lobbyist “women’s” groups.
“People should understand if it happens to them, they are not to blame at all. People put themselves in certain situations, but no one asks to be raped or assaulted.”