What Are Colleges Doing To Prevent Sexual Assault?

Earlier this week, the University of Southern California apologized for a survey accompanying a mandatory Title IX training course they sent out at the beginning of the semester. Although many campuses require sexual assault education and surveys on campus rape, which by their very nature ask students to reveal their sexual histories, USC's mandatory survey came under fire for requiring students to disclose detailed information about their sexual histories within the past three months. According to an email obtained by Campus Reform, incoming and continuing students who failed to finish the course — and, by extension, the survey — before Feb. 9 would receive a registration hold until the course was completed.

USC apologized for the survey's content, which some students perceived as invasive, and removed the offending questions from the course entirely. Said Senior Vice President for Administration Todd Dickey in a statement to the New York Daily News, "USC apologizes for any offense or discomfort caused by optional questions included as part of a mandatory on-line training for students on sexual consent, misconduct and other important issues. These questions have been removed from our online-training module."

One such question asked students how many times they had had sex in the past three months, "including oral," while another asked how many times the respondent had used a condom. It went on to ask about a student's number of sexual partners, drug use, and drinking habits. "It was just full of super personal questions," one USC student told Campus Reform.

As Dickey pointed out in his statement to the Daily News, "all colleges and universities are required by law to provide such training," thanks to Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in education It stands to reason that surveys on the topic of sexual assault get extremely personal; the problem in this case arose from the fact that USC's survey was mandatory and questionably anonymous. As one student observed to the Daily News, "It said it was anonymous, but at the same time, they were keeping track of whether I was answering or not."

But although USC's survey may have been a misstep, it should be noted that the university clearly takes campus sexual assault seriously. That's more than can be said for many educational institutions, which have a history of failing victims of sexual assault. Fortunately, though, that's changing as more survivors speak out and activists call attention to the disturbing frequency of sexual assault on campus. Let's take a look at some ways schools are trying to combat the campus rape epidemic that, happily, helping.

1. Acquiring Data

The Association of American Universities (AAUW) gathered data on the subject of campus sexual assault last year, surveying students in 27 campuses across the nation. The results were troubling, to say the least: More than 10 percent of students reported nonconsensual sex, and a full 23 percent of female undergraduates reported experiencing some form of sexual assault. Furthermore, according to the study, many students felt that sexual assault wasn't "serious enough" to report to officials. It's disturbing news, of course, but knowledge is the first step to change.

2. Consent Training

Student George Lawlor sparked a heated discussion on the definition of consent last fall with an op-ed protesting a consent training session for "pointing out the obvious." The issue with his essay was that it naively assumed that everyone inherently understands consent — but that's not always the case. Even if you doubt the results of the infamous study finding that almost a third of (straight) male students would have nonconsensual sexual contact with a woman if there were no consequences, all it takes is a look at the statistics on campus rape to see that not everyone understands what constitutes consent, which is what makes university courses on consent so important.

3. Bringing In Outside Help

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As more and more colleges come under fire for botching sexual assault investigations, NPR reports that some have begun outsourcing the groundwork to professional investigators-for-hire. This has come with some accusations of bias, of course, but the case could be made that outside help is less likely to be biased than investigators from the colleges themselves, who have reputations to protect.

4. Cracking Down on Greek Life

Despite the stereotypes, campus sexual assault is hardly restricted to Greek life, but it certainly doesn't hurt. Fraternity and sorority culture is notorious for binge drinking, hazing, and an obsession with "tradition" — it's not hard to see why many colleges have reportedly adopted stricter attitudes toward misbehavior. "Greek chapters are going to expect campuses are going to have a zero tolerance for [misconduct]... Schools will be acting quickly," NASPA president Kevin Kruger told the Huffington Post last year.

5. Starting Education Earlier

Although campus sexual assault is largely seen as a university problem, some lower educational institutions have begun to include sexual assault and consent education in their sex education in their programs. Just last year, California became the first state to require consent education in high schools, and hopefully, other states will follow quickly follow suit. The earlier students start consent education, the better.

Images: Neon Tommy, Howl Arts Collective, Chase Carter/Flickr