Sending your child off to college is an exciting time for the whole family. You’ve prepared them, but what is the school doing to ensure their safety?
One in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted while in college. 90% go unreported.
LGBTQ students1, black students2, and students living with disabilities3 all have higher risks of being sexually assaulted on-campus.
As a parent you want to know what efforts the college is taking to prevent sexual assault. What support is available? Do the students there feel safe? As students are heading back to school, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape is focusing on making colleges safer.
Campus Sexual Assault Prevention
Colleges and universities are in a unique position to create a campus culture that is safe for all students, faculty, and staff. Research shows that campuses need to go beyond a one-time awareness event in order to change knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs. Many elements must come together to create a comprehensive approach to end campus sexual violence. Awareness, risk reduction, response, and prevention are all pieces of that puzzle.
Awareness increases understanding of what sexual violence is and its prevalence. Awareness activities can also inform students and staff about campus resources that are available to support students and faculty.
Risk-reduction approaches help students and faculty identify warning signs of sexual violence and learn safety tips to reduce the prevalence of these incidents.
Response occurs following an assault. Response procedures work to lessen the impact of trauma on survivors and those who are close to them.
Prevention goes beyond raising awareness and reducing risk. Prevention work engages campus communities in creating long-term solutions to social issues. Effective prevention strategies address the root causes and social norms that allow sexual violence to exist. All forms of oppression are connected, including oppression that takes the form of sexual violence. For instance, studies have shown that campuses that are more welcoming of LGBTQ students also have lower rates of sexual assault4. Oppression creates an environment where inequality thrives and violence, including sexual assault, is seen as normal, acceptable, or unavoidable. To prevent sexual violence as a whole, it is necessary to change the culture.
Questions to ask
How can I learn more about what this campus is doing to prevent sexual assault and support victims?
- There are many places a parent or student may learn about a college’s resources for prevention and support. Campus Police, Student Affairs, and the Office of Resident Life are all good places to start. This information may be available on the school’s website in connection with these groups, or you may want to contact them for more details. Additionally, some universities have counseling centers who may be able to discuss support options for students.
- The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, better known as the Clery Act, is a federal law that was passed in 1990. The Clery Act requires universities and colleges that receive federal financial aid to disclose information about crime on and around the campus, including incidents of sexual assault. Keep in mind that most students do not disclose sexual assault, so these numbers are generally low. However, consistent reports of “0” sexual assaults should raise questions about the campus climate, because it generally indicates that the school is not making efforts to understand, address, or transparently discuss campus sexual assault. These low prevalence scores are not necessarily a marker of the campus’s work to integrate and prioritize sexual assault prevention and response.
- It is important to ask if the university requires student attendance at prevention or awareness programs during orientation or other key times in the school year. Express interest in the sexual violence prevention education and programs on campus. Additionally, you may want to ask how the campus supports student groups involved in activism or prevention.
Where can I review the policies and procedures used by this university to respond to a report of sexual assault?
- It’s important to understand there is a difference between reporting an assault to the police to press criminal charges and reporting to the school for an on-campus discipline action. You may want to ask the campus about the process for both options.
- The criminal justice system is intended to vindicate the rights of the state. Reporting to the police to initiate a criminal complaint can set this system in motion.
- Campus discipline boards associated with sexual assault were created to promote gender equity in education as guaranteed under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. Federal law requires that schools appropriately address sexual assault in order to ensure equal access to education.
- The criminal justice system and campus discipline boards may be used individually, jointly, or not at all by victims of sexual assault.
- Campus procedure is confidential and creates no public records. The process is considered an educational tool. Decisions of the board, including penalties, focus on fixing the harm done to the campus and victim. In addition, it is believed that the accused should learn from the situation and understand why they were wrong. The range of punishments may include suspensions and expulsions, because the university’s biggest concern is creating a safe environment.
- Counterintuitively, high numbers of reported sexual assault may indicate that the university is taking the issue of sexual assault seriously. Most campus victims do not report sexual violence at all, largely due to distrust in how they will be treated by the community (friend, family, peers, professors, the university as a whole, etc). Thus, higher numbers of reported sexual assault may be an indicator that the university has a culture that students trust. Conversely, a low reporting rate may indicate that sexual assault may not be a priority for the university. To get perspective, it can be helpful to look at the reported rate on campus for the last five years.
What sexual assault training is provided to faculty and staff, including resident assistants?
- Some universities are investing in training faculty, staff, and resident assistants about their legal responsibilities, how to appropriately respond to a student who discloses they have experienced sexual violence, and where to refer victims for support.
- Some campuses have information widely available to help guide the response of staff and others if a student discloses an assault.
- Most campus faculty and staff do not have the ability to promise confidentiality to the victim, and should let the victim know if they are required to share any of the information about the assault. However, faculty who are certified counselors or medical professionals should be able to maintain confidential communications. Staff and volunteers from rape crisis centers in Pennsylvania are also able to keep all information confidential and private, even when subpoenaed.
What counseling or services are available for victims of sexual assault, both on and off campus?
- Some universities offer individual and group counseling for victims. To find out more about these sessions, you can contact the campus counseling center or the head of student affairs. Either can direct you to the right services.
- In Pennsylvania, rape crisis centers provide services to victims in all 67 counties. Students are welcome to use these confidential, off-campus services. You can locate the rape crisis center nearest to you at www.pcar.org/help-in-PA. No referral is necessary.
- Some universities work closely with the local rape crisis center, while others offer support through campus services. The expertise of rape crisis centers in responding to victims and teaching prevention is invaluable to the campus community. You may want to ask the university if they have a formal memorandum of understanding or other agreement with their local rape crisis center.
- Rape crisis centers offer free and confidential crisis counseling, a 24-hour hotline to provide support and information, and services to victim’s families, friends, and partners. Advocates are available to accompany victims to the hospital, the police station, and court. Rape crisis centers can also provide information and referrals to services in the area, and provide prevention education programs to schools, organizations, and other public groups.
- Ask if the university has a Memorandum of Understanding with the local rape crisis center or the local police department that outlines how they will work together to prevent sexual assault, cooperate with investigation needs, protect victim privacy, and offer options to students who are victims.
- Employees and volunteers at Pennsylvania rape crisis centers are able to keep all communications with a victim confidential and private, even when subpoenaed. At universities, most staff members cannot provide this level of confidentiality. A guarantee of privacy can be very reassuring to victims, who often have concerns about controlling their own stories. It is recommended that universities make all options for support, both on- and off-campus, available to students.
- Universities should have protocols in place to outline how they can coordinat or cooperate with law enforcement agencies investigating incidents of sexual assault that involve students.
- Formal agreements that outline mutually respectful partnerships between the university and local agencies with expertise in sexual assault prevention and response are extremely beneficial. They demonstrate a high level of commitment to addressing sexual violence, and a recognition that this issue is a community problem which requires community-based solutions.
What to know about Title IX
Understanding Title IX
Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendment is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in K—12 and postsecondary educational settings. It was passed to ensure all students were afforded the same rights to learn and participate in educational programming, regardless of gender or sex. The law states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance (Title IX of 20 U.S.C.A §168).”
Some people may think Title IX is only about athletics, but the rights encompassed in this policy are about so much more. Title IX prohibits discrimination in all educational programs and activities—athletics, academics, clubs, field trips, and even the classroom.
While the statute clearly states Title IX’s purpose, it says very little about the specific steps schools must take to prevent and address sex and gender discrimination. Therefore, since its passage, the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) has issued numerous documents to guide the implementation of Title IX. The Office for Civil Rights, under the DoE, is the official body that investigates and enforces schools’ Title IX compliance.
Title IX guidance and enforcement have been influenced by the larger social and political climates of the last five decades, as well as the leadership of nine different U.S. presidents. This document provides a summary of the most recent rules associated with Title IX, issued in May 2020 and taking effect in mid-August 2020. There are several legal cases that have been filed—from the American Civil Liberties Union, National Women’s Law Center, and Victim Rights Law Center—challenging the legality of these rules.
Summary of 2020 Title IX Rules
In 2017, Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidance on Title IX issued through the “Dear Colleague” letter. Then, in September 2018, DeVos proposed changes to the broader Title IX rules and their application to sexual misconduct. The Federal register was open to public comments on those proposed rules.
Over 120,000 sets of comments were submitted by interested parties and organizations. In May 2020, the Department issued its finale rules with an effective date of August 14, 2020. These rules are legally binding. While there are some areas that remain flexible, the grievance and adjudication process are prescriptive and may interfere with existing state law.
Several law suits have been filed against the Department of Education, including suits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, National Women’s Law Center, and 18 states’ Attorneys General (including Pennsylvania) and D.C. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape submitted a sworn statement as part of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s lawsuit. Shapiro filed a motion to delay the effective date of the rules; that motion is pending the court’s decision.
President Biden’s administration is undergoing a longer-term process to alter Secretary DeVos’s changes, but the impacts of his administration may not become law for some time, and the changes they are likely to make are still under discussion.
However, the Biden Administration’s Department of Education has already issued an official reinterpretation of Title IX as of June 16, 2021. Contrary to Secretary DeVos’s policies, the Department of Education will now interpret Title IX to protect students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender presentation, as well as gender or sex. The decision was based on both a relevant Supreme Court decision and President Biden’s Executive Orders to protect individuals from discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender presentation.
- The National Sexual Violence Resource Center was founded by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. The center identifies, develops, and disseminates resources regarding all aspects of sexual violence prevention and intervention. NSVRC also maintains the nation’s largest library of resources on sexual violence and prevention.
- PreventConnect is a national project of ValorUS with funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. The goal of PreventConnect is to advance the primary prevention of sexual assault and relationship violence by building a strong community among individuals working on sexual violence efforts and initiatives. PreventConnect also builds the capacity of local, state, territorial, national, and tribal agencies and organizations to develop, implement, and evaluate effective prevention initiatives.
- The Clery Center for Security On Campus is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) dedicated to preventing violence, substance abuse, and other crimes on college and university campuses across the United States. The Clery Center also works to compassionately assist the victims of these crimes.
- It’s On Us aims to fundamentally shift the way we think about sexual assault, by inspiring everyone to see it as their responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it.
- Founded in 2013, Know Your IX is a national survivor-run, student-driven campaign to end campus sexual violence. A grassroots-based organization, Know Your IX educates students across the country about their civil right to education free from sexual violence and harassment. Know Your IX while also advocates for public policy and legislative change on the national level for better federal enforcement of students’ Title IX rights.
- 2014 Student Summit on Sexual Assault: Report and Recommendations: Student voices are a valuable resource to influence decision-making and campus policies related to sexual assault. This report by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault highlights the critical voices of students on campus sexual assault prevention and response.