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Campus Climate Surveys - How The Legislation Has Evolved

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The Early Aspects Of Legislation

Over the past two years, campus sexual violence has grabbed the attention of filmmakers, lawmakers and the White House. This issue is garnering lots of attention — which is good for students safety in colleges and universities.

From the start, United States legislation has struggled in concisely defining “affirmative consent”. The policy colloquially known as “No Means No”, deemed to be a problem early on with its adoption at universities because of it’s loose terms of sexual assault. For many years, student reports of assault have been frequently mishandled. This discouraged survivors to come forward and identify themselves as victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. The majority of state laws define sexual assault using the old consent standard (“No Means No”) in terms of campus sexual assault. However, there are sex offenses that can be charged in the criminal justice system using an affirmative consent standard. While “no means no” has become a well-known slogan, it places the burden on victims, which makes it their responsibility to adamantly show resistance.

Unfortunately, early legislation faltered in identifying assaults and effectively executing its laws to implement safety for students in college. Since “No Means No” and other policies have been lackluster in its efforts, the government and several states have taken strides for improvement.

This has led to the establishment of Campus Climate surveys. The surveys are created to afford institutions the opportunity to better understand their campus and make informed decisions when it comes to providing a safe educational environment. The states that utilize this service will conduct a uniform climate survey that ascertains student experience with and knowledge of reporting. As well as college adjudicatory processes for sexual harassment, sexual violence, and other related crimes.

Recently, the state of California enacted SB 967 legislation to make “Yes Means Yes” the consent standard on college campuses, which takes a major step toward preventing sexual violence. This legislation requires preventative education during student orientation, increased access to counseling resources and training for adjudication panels. Thus, we begin to see a shift in policy and legislation being adopted by universities that increases security and prevention of continual sexual violence on campuses.

Confining The Confusion of Legislation

Presently, the implementation of Campus Climate Surveys and new legislation have made huge strides in confining the confusion of sexual assault on campus. Legislation is beginning to narrow down the definition of consent and sexual assault. Each has it’s own interpretation like California, whose  “Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent”. Making these terms transparent is very important in effectively tackling the problem.

Until now, these sanctions have been voluntarily adopted by colleges; SB-967 gives them the backing of a government mandate. In addition to creating a vaguely and subjectively defined offense of nonconsensual sex, the bill also explicitly places the burden of proof on the accused. Stating that they must demonstrate that he (or she) took “reasonable steps … to ascertain whether the complainant affirmatively consented.” Policies as such are controversial and burden the victims more than necessary.

One of the task force's recommendations for revising sexual misconduct policies included defining consent as a "voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity." Past consent should not imply consent, nor should silence or the absence of resistance, the guidelines recommend.

Schools nationwide are in the process of rewriting or have already rewritten their sexual assault policies, procedures and prevention education programs to meet standards in the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, known as the Campus SaVE Act. That took effect in 2013 as part of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. With a fairer process, more students are coming forward to report crimes, and in time campuses will be safer.

Improvement of  the Federal Government’s Enforcement Efforts

The Obama administration is working to improve the Federal Government’s enforcement efforts, and to make them more transparent in practice. He states:

“We need to build on these efforts. To better address sexual assault at our nation’s schools, we need to both strengthen our enforcement efforts and increase coordination among responsible federal agencies. Also, and importantly, we need to improve our communication with students, parents, school administrators, faculty, and the public, by making our efforts more transparent.”

In 2014 President Obama proposed this call to action to identify the problem and to solve it. The White House Task Force was created to protect students from sexual assault. They have proposed a new standard to dealing with sexual assault on campus strive to show sexual assault survivors that they are not alone. The Task Force helps schools live up to their obligation to protect students from sexual violence.

  1. Identify the scope of the problem on college campuses;
  2. Help prevent campus sexual assault;
  3. Help schools respond effectively when a student is assaulted; and
  4. Improve, and make more transparent, the federal government’s enforcement efforts.

Obama has stated that, Campus Climate Surveys are necessary and will be mandated in 2016. He feels that a mandate for schools to periodically conduct a climate survey will change the national dynamic. The Federal government will have a better picture of what’s really happening on campus. Schools will be able to more effectively tackle the problem and measure the success of their efforts (notalone.gov)

Developing A Comprehensive Sexual Misconduct Policy

The Task Force has created a way for colleges and universities to have an easily accessible, user-friendly sexual misconduct policy. They realize that many schools do not have adequate policies and that there is no one approach that suits every school. So they have created a policy aid that will help with the grey area that each school will have due to their diversity.  The White House Task Force states:

We are providing schools with a checklist for a sexual misconduct policy. This checklist provides both a suggested process for developing a policy, as well as the key elements a school should consider in drafting one. Importantly, schools should bring all the key stakeholders to the table – including students, survivors, campus security, law enforcement, resident advisors, student groups (including LGBTQ groups), on-campus advocates, and local victim service providers. Effective policies will vary in scope and detail, but an inclusive process is common to all.

In June of 2014, they provided schools with a sample Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with local law enforcement. The MOU can help open lines of communication and increase coordination among campus security, local law enforcement and other community groups that provide victim services. This can also improve security on and around campus, make investigations and prosecutions more efficient, and increase officer's’ understanding of the unique needs of sexual assault victims. They will explore legislative or administrative options to require colleges and universities to conduct an evidence-based survey, also known as Campus Climate Surveys, in 2016.

In essence, The White House Task Force has played a big role in the improvement of legislation in colleges and universities with sexual assault. They seek to clearly define the problem, identify it, and solve it. The implementation of Campus Climate Surveys is a very important aspect of this process. It’s mandatory implementation in 2016 will only lead to vast improvement in sexual assault policy and legislation on college and university campuses nationwide. Policy and legislation has only improved since progressive policies have been implemented and helping  sexual assault become widely known all over the nation.

 

Photo by Mark Fischer

Crime Against Women – Statistics on Campuses and Campus SaVE Act

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According to an interview with Susan Carbon, Director of the Department of Justice, even though the nation has witnessed a decrease in the area of violent crime in recent years, the area of crime against women has actually experienced a dramatic increase. Ms. Carbon pointed out that the primary areas of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking still continue to have a major impact on many women across the country.  Campus SaVE Act is a bold and necessary step towards addressing these crimes. As many statistics bear out, each year:

  • One in every four women will experience severe physical violence by a former spouse, boyfriend, or significant other.
  • Stalkers will victimize approximately 5.2 million women with domestic violence-related stalking being the most common.
  • One in five women can expect to be raped in their lifetime with 1.3 million rapes being reported every year.

Crimes Against Women on College Campuses

While these figures can be quite sobering, these four major crimes can be even more alarming when they occur on college campuses. However, there is an added layer of concern as statistics show that a major contributing factor to the increase violence against women on college campuses seems to be a direct result alcohol in many circumstances.

It appears that many college rapists avoid the justice system by targeting women who will not be considered credible because of alcohol, drug use, or some other similarly related factors. Their tactics are often to ply the women with alcohol before using force. The statistics seem to give weight to this argument:

  • 19% of undergraduate women reported experiencing completed or attempted sexual assault since entering college. The majority of these assaults occurred while the woman was incapacitated with alcohol.
  • There is a higher risk of incapacitated rape while a woman is in college.
  • More that 80% of undetected college rapists reported committing rapes of women who were incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol.
  • Still, as alarming as these figures are they are not reported with any level of accuracy.

Most Crimes are Unreported

While these statistics may seem a bit extreme it becomes even more disturbing when you consider that most crimes that involve violence against women go unreported, leaving their victims to suffer in silence because of traditional views and societal attitudes. For most women, they will be left alone with feelings of guilt and shame, never reaching out to seek the help the need from police, hospitals, crisis centers, or shelters. It is estimated that only 2% of victims of incapacitated rape reported the assault to law enforcement.

What Can Be Done About It

This paints a grim picture of the level of crime against women on college campuses, however there are other added layers of violence against women that are quite common when it comes to assaults that occur on college campuses. Consider the facts that unlike other forms of sexual assault or violence against women, many of these crimes are committed in full view of witnesses or bystanders.

With 60% of alcohol-facilitated rapes occurring at parties there are more often than not witnesses to the crime, yet few people feel compelled to intervene. Clearly, this is where the new Campus SaVE Act can be of immense support. With the need to change the campus culture a re-education needs to be implemented that will offer new programs like Bystander Intervention Training to change the social attitudes that continue to contribute to this growing problem on our nation’s campuses.

As we watch our nation’s campuses evolve under this new law, we’ll see new educational programs emerge to redirect college thinking starting from the top down. Administrators will be enlisted as partners in reaching out to all those involved. Bystanders will be less afraid to speak up when they see things without fear of repercussions and with the combined efforts of drug and alcohol abuse centers working with the school police, department of justice, and other authorities we will slowly begin to see much of the crimes changing making our campuses safe for women everywhere.

Photo credit Flickr