There is no punishment harsh enough when it comes to sexual assault, but when it comes to campus rape that occurs at colleges and universities across America, some are wondering if there is a punishment at all.
Recently, The Undergraduate Times published an article titled “The Red Zone,” which discussed the rampant cases of campus rape plaguing American institutions of higher education. The Red Zone is known as a period of time between August and October when the most reported sexual assault cases occur on college campuses. According to RAINN, 1 in 5 female students is assaulted. The Justice Department has predicted that fewer than 5% of attempted and completed cases of sexual assault are reported – an alarmingly small number considering the fact that when it comes to the general population of America, the percentage of assaults reported is 40%.
This past winter, the Department of Education released the names of 55 colleges that are currently under investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases including many prestigious schools such as The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Pennsylvania State University, The University of California at Berkeley, and The University of Connecticut. When it comes to properly handling these cases, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), the Chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, said, “I don’t think universities really feel there are consequences that are meaningful.” McCaskill released a survey of a national sample of 236 universities and colleges which found that 41% had conducted no investigations at all of alleged sexual assaults within the last 5 years. As an attempt to crack down on these out-of-control cases, Senator McCaskill, along with a bipartisan group of senators have proposed legislation known as the Campus Accountability and Safety Act that would require schools to release the results of an anonymous survey taken by students concerning assault, in order to aid prospective students and their parents in making an informed decision about the institution. This measure would also increase the penalties imposed on schools for not complying with the legislation such as losing 1% of their total operating budget, and increasing the penalties under the Clery Act, which would fine schools up to $150,000/violation – much higher than the current $35,000 fine. Just last year the Department of Education fined Yale $165,000 for not disclosing four sexual assault cases involving force that occurred over the past several years.
The Jeanne Clery Act, otherwise known as “The Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act” requires that all colleges who participate in federal financial aid programs publicly disclose statistics on on-campus rape. Roughly 1/3 of all colleges and universities are currently compliant with the Clery Act. The legislation being proposed right now would also require schools to provide confidential advisors to aid victims in reporting crimes and receiving help, render schools unable to punish students for something such as underage drinking if they are reporting sexual assault, and would no longer allow athletics departments and similar subgroups of students to handle complaints of sexual assault for members of that group.
Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, the co-founders of End Rape on Campus, and avid supporters of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, know all too well the damage what comes with reporting on-campus rape. Clark was told that rape is “like a football game” and instructed to figure out what she did wrong when reporting her rape to the administration at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Pino, who was raped and woke up covered in bruises in a pool of blood the day after her attack, was simply told that college was not for her. These two women represent only a fraction of the horror stories that have been emerging in the past few months.
According to Anne Neal, the President of American Council of Trustees and Alumni, “Colleges are simply unable to play judge, jury, and executioner when they’re already having trouble playing educator. Resources are limited and colleges must put their focus on their primary objective: education.” While it is true that the main purpose of attending a university is to obtain an education, it is also important for students to feel safe at all times. Failure to investigate these cases of sexual assault is sheer laziness and irresponsibility on the schools’ part. When students pay what we do for school each year, we expect quality protection on campus alongside the quality education that we seek. Co-sponsors of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act include Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-IA), Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), and Senator Dean Heller (R-NV). As Senator McCaskill said, “Very rarely does a bill become a truly collaborative process and this bill has been truly collaborative and bipartisan,” which I think further proves it’s importance. Even those who work at American universities know how important this legislation is. Erin Buzuvis, a professor at Western New England University’s School of Law said “Provisions of the legislation that create financial penalties for noncompliance is a real game changer because it creates, for the first time, an incentive for universities to address campus assaults in a proactive manner.”
And while Terry Hartle, the Senior Vice President at the American Council on Education that represents colleges and universities called the legislation a “pretty heavy handed approach,” I believe that Senator Gillibrand said it best: “The price of a college education should not include a 1-in-5 chance of being sexually assaulted.” It is time that we all become aware; university officials, law enforcement, parents, and students. Sexual violence is a high risk for all men and women, especially those in college. The National Institute of Justice found that in 80-90% of on-campus assault cases, the victim and assailant knew each other, 35.5% of all reported attempted and completed rapes have been committed by a classmate, 34.2% of completed assaults are committed by a friend, and 24.2% of attempted assaults are committed by a friend.
Maybe colleges are afraid of the bad press that comes with sexual assault cases, but students and prospective students are more likely to feel safer knowing that their school handles the cases rather than ignoring them. In the words of Annie Clark, “the institutional betrayal that these students face is sometimes worse than the assault itself.” On behalf of all college students, I ask you to please protect us, America. The physical, mental, and emotional damage caused by sexual violence is life changing. We have the power to stop these atrocities, so let us do just that.