Between 20 and 25 percent of college-aged women and six percent of men are victims of rape during their years at school. Most perpetrators are not strangers but acquaintances, friends or romantic interests.
Despite the prominence of sexual violence on college campuses, a startling number of attacks go unreported. The American Association of Women estimates that 65 percent of these cases are never brought to the attention of police or university officials.
Some common causes for this phenomenon are fear of retribution from the attacker, embarrassment and the victim’s belief that it was their fault. These are all psychological consequences of a traumatic event, perpetuated by the social stigma which dictates that these survivors should be ashamed.
It is certain that before more rape and harassment victims step forward, societal ideas about the crime and those who’ve lived through it have to change.
But another serious reason that some remain silent— the belief that their school won’t do anything about the incident—has barely been addressed. This can be especially problematic where institutional policies on sexual violence are lenient, poorly defined, or non-existent.
Hopefully, positive institutional changes will occur as a result of a new set of federal guidelines to prevent sexual violence in U.S. public schools.
Today, Vice President Joe Biden will disclose these suggestions, which are in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter clarifying and expanding upon Title IX, at the University of New Hampshire.
The letter says that schools should have at least one employee whose duty is to deal specifically with Title IX issues. A statement of pupils’ rights to a discrimination-free education and prevention policies should be published and easily accessible to all students and faculty. A clear breakdown of what Title IX does and does not permit schools to do after a complaint has been filed will also be included.
But I have to wonder, why has it taken 38 years since after Title IX was passed into law for the federal government to help schools respond properly and efficiently to sexual assault and harassment allegations?
The delay in initiative is disappointing and probably could have made a substantial difference if implemented sooner. But these guidelines are a step in the right direction toward lessening the number of unreported sex crimes.
Education about sexual violence will be more wide-spread in places where it is a tremendous issue. The more this topic moves from “taboo” to an opportunity for discussion and providing solutions, the less intense the stigma’s sting will become.
It’s also more of an incentive for these young men and women to come forward if schools understand they must protect survivors by honor requests for changes in schedules or living arrangements, and shielding them from the violator.
Help your local school district by supporting Title IX and making sure all educators are aware of the federal government’s efforts to prevent sexual violence in schools.
Melissa Major, Spring Intern