The White House Has A 5-Step Plan To Curb Campus Sex Assault, And It Might Just Work
It's been a long time coming. On Monday, the White House finally released new guidelines to crack down on sexual assault on college campuses. The 20-page report from the government task force proposes some major strides in addressing the nationwide issue, and rightfully so — well-known schools such as Harvard, University of North Carolina, and Florida State have recently come under fire for their handling of sexual assault cases. The suggestions have the potential to be real game-changers when it comes to the treatment of sexual violence, with recommended actions including increased transparency and mandatory reporting.
While the proposals aren't the be-all-and-end-all solution to the epidemic, they're an important first step in acknowledging that colleges across America aren't doing enough to help their students. It's no secret that schools are doing a less than stellar job when it comes to addressing sexual allegations on campus. One recent survey found a third of sexual assault policies on college campuses don't fully comply with federal law. Reassuring, isn't it?
President Obama didn't think so either, launching the task force in January to combat rape and sexual assault. The report from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault looks to change staggering statistics with the beginnings of a national policy overhaul, and it's recommendations are most definitely a welcome alternative than what's currently being offered.
1. Bringing in the bystander
Prevention programs are among the suggestions from the task force, which includes teaching students and staff to speak out and intervene when is someone is at risk. And the White House is taking a different approach here: engaging men instead of targeting them.
"Most men are not perpetrators – and when we empower men to step in when someone’s in trouble, they become an important part of the solution," the report reads.
A public service announcement called "1 Is 2 Many" featuring the President, Vice President Joe Biden and other celebrity figures, advocates the message: If you see it happening, help her, don’t blame her, speak up. Preach on.
2. Guidance on Students' Rights under Title IX
Title IX is a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding. Why is this such a big deal? Some educational institutions, most recently Tufts University, aren't complying with the law, and in effect could lose financing from the government. The bigger issue at hand: students are being swept under the rug. Students across the country have been filing complaints to the Department of Education, triggering a number of investigations at schools.
Under Monday's proposed guidelines, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a document clearing up frequently asked questions about a student’s rights and a school's obligations under the legislation.
It's a step in the right direction, but some critics say schools need to be held at a higher accountability.
A letter from advocacy group Know Your IX says:
...These changes will mean little until Title IX enforcement is finally given teeth. It is unconscionable that, in ED’s entire history, the agency has never once sanctioned a school for sexual violence-related violations of Title IX.
3. Increased Transparency
What seems to be most compelling from the task force is a call for schools to be more transparent when it comes to reporting sexual assault. Colleges are urged to complete "climate surveys" to gauge incidents among students. While they're still voluntary, it seems as though 2016 is the target year to make them mandatory.
Currently, the federal requirement only covers cases that are officially reported, which keeps numbers low. One activists tells NPR: "They are not discouraging the crime, they are only discouraging reporting, so by requiring a climate survey... there will be a true picture of crime on campus."
If students aren't getting the help they need from schools, a new website called NotAlone.gov will provide sexual assault resources and even assist victims in reporting their school for violating federal law. Locations for crisis services are available if those on campus are inadequate, and schools under OCR investigation, including those that involve Title IX sexual violence allegations, will be made public.
5. Student Confidentiality
One in five women have been sexually assaulted while in college, but schools don't always report the cases. Moreover, administrators or officials don't know how to properly handle the situation. In one such case, a UConn student reported an incident to to campus police after the administration failed to address it, only to be told by an officer that "women need to stop spreading their legs like peanut butter or rape is going to keep on happening ‘til the cows come home.”
The White House task force suggests new guidance when it comes to harsh interrogation on the victim's part, where "questions about the survivor's sexual history with anyone other than the alleged perpetrator should not be permitted," as well as the fact that previous consensual relationships doesn't imply consent.
Another big factor: sexual assault victims will be able to speak confidentially to a trained advocate who wouldn't be required "to report all the details of an incident to school officials," as previously mandated by some colleges.
Though schools will be able to make the policies their own (which may not be for the best as previously seen), there will be universal guiding principles to publicize what information will be shared, and with whom.