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Fighting the Uphill Battle of Sexual Assault on College Campuses

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According to The Washington Post-Kaiser Poll (2015), 20 percent of young women who attended college during the past four years admitted to being victims of sexual assault. In contrast, a mere 5 percent of all college students, men and women, admit to being hazed.

What Is Being Done To Change These Astounding Statistics Of Sexual Violence On College Campuses?

Congress passed two laws to address the increasing violence.

The Campus SaVE Act was initially designed to bring justice to victims and survivors of sexual assaults and rapes on college campuses. The Campus SaVE Act was enacted to change society’s response to sexual violence, prevent future acts, and bring greater awareness to sexual violence on college campuses.  This law was signed by President Obama in March of 2013 as an addition to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.

The Campus SaVE Act requires public and private universities and colleges to increase awareness about sexual violence on campus. SaVE aims to allow more rights to victims through conduct proceedings at institutions and provide campus-wide programs to educate the students.

The second law is called the “Safe Campus Act,” and was enacted in July 2015. It brought sweeping changes to campuses across the country.

The “Safe Campus Act” prohibits colleges from investigating sexual assault cases and punishing predators unless the victim first files an official police report. The new law requires victims of sexual violence to report the incident to the police in order for the school to be held accountable and take action.  Thus, colleges are prohibited from investigating cases or punishing perpetrators until the victim makes an official police report.

Do These New Laws Really Help The Victims And Survivors Of Sexual Violence On Campus?

Rather than taking the side of the victims and survivors, the law instead protects schools from having to report and perpetrators from being punished by the university. Colleges are shielded from addressing any sexual assault issues by forcing outside police officers to start the process.  Consequently, if the victim is afraid to come forward to police officers, or afraid to start a formal proceeding, and instead wishes to speak with the dean of students or a professor and have the university handle it, the victim is out of luck.

Many victims of sexual violence feel ashamed, embarrassed, and are afraid to speak up. Additionally, the victim may fear being questioned and even blamed for their own assault.  Many are afraid of the whole legal process which culminates in a public trial, and subjects the victim to rigorous cross-examination. There is a distrust of the criminal justice system.  Therefore, many victims do not go to the police.

Statistics indicate that some perpetrators become repeat offenders when no repercussions result from such offense. One report found that 90 % of campus sexual assaults are committed by less than 8% of the male students.  Additionally, some people assume that sexual violence cases are often falsely reported or that the acts were consensual.  However, statistics indicate a false reporting rate for sexual violence of 2-8 %, which is no higher than any other crime’s false reporting rate.

What Changes In The Laws Would Help Stop Campus Sexual Assaults?

  • Create quality standards for campus-wide programs aimed at preventing sexual assault. Require colleges and universities to implement policies and programs that meet the standards.
  • Require the institutions to maintain a census of reported acts of assault, and make it available to all upon request.
  • Require colleges and universities to educate the students. At most institutions, new student orientation is mandatory; orientation should include a segment focused on preventing sexual assault. And if the school does not comply, it may be sued to force compliance.
  • Dismantle the “Safe Campus Act” requirement that all complaints of sexual violence must first be reported to police. The victim should not be forced into the criminal justice system, when maybe all she wants is to be relieved of her dorm contract so she can move away from her assaulter.
  • The number of assault events on campuses everywhere is high enough to justify specialized training of college staff to recognize signs of assault, to encourage reporting of events, and how to deal with victims and perpetrators.

Statistics are not changing and sexual violent acts are repeatedly committed throughout college campuses across the country. The new laws are not enough protection, and there is concern that the laws actually protect the institutions and the offenders, and do little to help those that really need it the most.  More change is needed.

Cory Watson attorneys advocate for victims of sexual assault and understand how important it is for victims to get justice. Sexual assaulters must be held accountable; likewise, people in a position of authority, who fail to protect those in their care, must be held responsible for what happens on their watch. Lawyers at Cory Watson are available to provide confidential, free legal consultation for victims of sexual assault.

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