Enough is enough: Schools need to do more to protect women from sexual assault

Sexual assault on college campuses has been much in the news lately, and for good reason: It’s a crime that is as pervasive as it is frequently suppressed. It’s about time that it became part of a real, ongoing discussion about students’ safety on campus. And under Title IX, various schools have begun to enact measures in order to prevent and better deal with incidents of on-campus sexual violence. But is it enough? The short answer is no.

Let’s consider the University of Virginia. A recent Rolling Stone article took a look at the painful story of a woman named Jackie, who was gang-raped at a fraternity house, and her fight to get the school administration to respond. According to Rolling Stone, when Jackie reported the crime to a dean, she was actively discouraged from speaking about the incident, and she experienced backlash from defenders of the Greek house and school policy alike. This despite the fact that UVA prides itself on a code of conduct known as the Honor System.

This is clearly a failure of the school administration, but it’s also a failure of the school’s culture generally. Not only was Jackie allegedly denied support in the wake of the horrifying incident, she was shamed because of it. And this shame is exactly why on-campus assault has been, for so long, a scourge often experienced and little discussed.

And UVA isn’t the only one, not by any measure. A recent study found that fewer than one-third of all campus sexual assault cases result in expulsion of the perpetrator. Earlier this year, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz raised awareness of her school’s mishandling of her sexual assault case, protesting the fact that her rapist was still enrolled in classes by carrying around mattress.

Meanwhile, Princeton University has come under fire for failing to promptly and thoroughly address assault and harassment claims made my female students.

Under pressure to make swift changes, universities have begun to implement new educational awareness raising campaigns, but those efforts can be flawed if they lead to victim-blaming (telling women not to drink too much, or act a certain way).

“It’s a tough line to tread because the blame should still be on the perpetrator, but you also want to protect these people,” Larkin Sayre, a sophomore and student activist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told NPR on Thursday. Recently, the University of Wisconsin’s students were issued safety tips that seemed to place blame on the potential victim rather than the perpetrator.

As for UVA, they’re reportedly involving local police in an investigation into the alleged gang-rape that took place on their campus. But as many have pointed out, it took a major magazine exposing the story in order for the claims to be taken seriously.

With the alarming number of sexual assault incidents happening on campuses nationwide, it will take more than major media exposure to combat the problem. It will take a dramatic change in the way schools handle sexual assault—from prevention education to zero-tolerance policies. Women deserve to go to schools where they feel safe, where their voices are heard, and where action is taken when they’re subject to unspeakable violence.

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