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Sexual Assault on College Campuses: One Year Later

One year ago, we discussed the national outcry over the number of sexual assaults on college campuses and the rampant mishandling of the complaints regarding them. The statistics were alarming: 1 in 5 women face sexual assault in college; over 21% of the nation's largest private institutions had seven times the number of incidents of sexual assaults than they investigated; 73% of colleges have no protocol for how to work with local police when handling investigations; 43% of the nation's largest public schools let students adjudicate sexual assault cases, and 22% of colleges gave athletic departments oversight of cases involving athletes.

Fast-forward a year. The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has revealed that 64 colleges are under investigation for possible violations of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on gender in schools that receive public funding. On August 20, 2014, the Department of Education issued guidelines to colleges for handling sexual assault allegations. In a survey of the colleges being investigated, some common policy changes and program initiatives were noted. Sexual assault education and awareness efforts both online and in classrooms are being promoted on many college campuses this school year. Resources for victims of assault, as well as disciplinary procedures for perpetrators are announced online, the latter now including expulsion at some schools. The publication of harsher disciplinary procedures, now widely undertaken by independent parties or trained faculty members instead of students, is hoped to be a deterrent to students who care about preserving their academic and professional careers.

A consistent theme throughout those colleges surveyed is the concept of "clear consent:" someone can only truly consent to sex when they are clear of mind and not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Therefore, when at parties or at the bar scene, students should avoid "hooking up" if either person has been drinking so that no one regrets their actions the next day. Realizing that a person who has been drinking may not be able to insist on clear consent, colleges are promoting bystander intervention programs. These programs teach students how to recognize when fellow students are at risk of unwanted sexual attention, and what to do to extricate them from the situation.

Some fraternities and sororities have regular "room checks" during parties where appointed members check to make sure that no one is in a room against their will, or in trouble of any kind throughout the house.

While partying may be a part of campus culture, sexual assault must not be. Educating students and disciplining perpetrators will help to reduce what has become an unacceptable part of college life. It appears that the investigations by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights and the public scrutiny created by them has lead to a greater awareness on the part of students regarding sexual assaults, and a willingness to prevent them.

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