The best four years of your life are known to be the ones spent in college, which is supposed to be an incomparable and unequivocally life altering experience. Students leave high school with the hope of making memories that’ll last a lifetime as well as finding a route towards a successful future. Knowing what students are in search for, what many college tours neglect to say is that 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males are rendered victims of sexual assault in their time as undergraduate students, and only 20% of these students will report to law enforcement. Two thirds of college students experience some type of sexual violence in their four years at their university (“Campus Sexual Violence”).
This paper draws information from various forms of evidence including online publications, a documentary film, and academic journals. All of these references help examine the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses in recent years as well as the universities involvement in the lack of reporting.
Although there have been laws implemented, like Title IX, that try to approach the issue, there are far too many cases that have gone without justice due to the various flaws that appear in the system. Given the recent decision by administration to make a sexual predator into a Supreme Court Justice, the need to address the ongoing issue of sexual violence on college campuses is more urgent than ever.
Sexual assault refers to any form of unwanted or nonconsensual sexual activity. Not all sexual assault is technically considered rape, as there are other forms of sexual violence. Acts of sexual violence include forced fondling or touching, but not all forced sexual acts are necessarily physical. Many predators overpower their victims using psychological or emotional methods, most of which include drugs and alcohol (“Sexual Assault”). Statistics show that about 43% of sexual assault incidents involve the use of alcohol by the victim, and 69% by the perpetrator (“The”).
Some aggressors are even known to spike their victims’ drinks, using things such as date rape drugs, to take advantage of their vulnerability (“The”). It is more common that the predator already knows their targeted victim, which makes it easier for them to exploit that trust. In 2014, the National Crime Victimization Survey stated that, “In about half of the incidences reported in the NCVS, alcohol and drugs were involved. Offenders were almost always male, and in 80 percent of the cases both parties involved were acquainted” (). Considering that one in five women are victims of these crimes, it’s hard to question why only 20% of them report to authorities.
Reasons as to why people don’t report their attacker can vary widely. A very common reason for the underreporting of sexual assault is shame, a feeling of being worthless and exposed that can often cause victims to blame themselves instead of the perpetrator (Engel). Sexual assault can sometimes feel humiliating, which prevents someone from speaking out about it. Shame and embarrassment are especially prevalent among male victims, who face different types of stigma that stem from stereotypes of manhood and machismo (“Realities”). Some men may come to think that sexual assault would make them “less of a man” therefore are not likely to report the incident. A large group of people also deny that what happened to them was an act of sexual violence due to the mortification they feel, which again leads to blaming themselves.
Another recurrent reason for the underreporting of sexual assault is the lack of information and distrust in authority. There have been multiple instances in which students have reported their sexual assault victimization and have been silenced by their college’s administration in order for the university to maintain their reputation or simply to cover up for the predator.
The Hunting Ground is a documentary where survivors of sexual abuse on college campuses tell their stories about the obstacles they had to endure to receive the justice that they deserve. Annie Clark was a freshman at the University of North Carolina when she was physically and sexually assaulted at a college party. Without having much knowledge on how to report a situation like hers she went to administration in search for answers.
The administrator told Annie that rape was like a football game and asked, if she could go back, what might she have changed about it. Annie felt as if she was receiving the blame for being raped, for wearing what she might have been wearing, or drinking too much. Annie isn’t the only woman that has received answers like these to a cry of help. Many women report responses like these from their administrators: “Did you say no?” “What were you wearing?” “How much did you have to drink?” Caroline Heldman, a professor at Occidental College, says, “There’s a lot of victim-blaming with this crime, which has a silencing effect on survivors” (The). Consequently, 88% of women won’t report their assault. With responses like these, women don’t bother telling their administrative teams about their abusers, leaving thousands silenced.
Universities very often put their own reputations before the safety of their students. In order to maintain their sexual assault numbers low, schools try to discourage victims from reporting to a higher order of authorities, like the police. Many universities not only cover up sexual assault cases for the sake of their own reputation, but also for the sake of their athletic team’s reputation. Florida State University is known for its division one athletics, especially its football team. Erica Kinsman, who attended FSU, was raped by quarterback Jameis Winston in 2012. Before she was aware of the identity of her rapist, she went to the police and, instead of checking cameras or investigating anyone, they did nothing.
After Erica came to realize who her rapist was, she went straight to the police, who told her that she should really think about what she was doing considering how big of a football town that was. Jameis Winston continued his football career as a quarterback for FSU even after the authorities had knowledge of his crime; later he would be drafted into the NFL. Although DNA on Erica’s rape kit matched Jameis Winston’s DNA, the attorney claimed that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Winston.
Schools like FSU invest millions of dollars into their athletic programs, so they are willing to do as much as possible to not lose an athlete like Winston, even though he was guilty for the crime. After students at FSU heard about the accusations against Winston, most of them ridiculed Erica calling it a cry for attention rather than what it actually was. Stories like Erica Kinsman’s make it so much more difficult for women or men to have the courage to speak out about a rape incident to the point where many sexual assault victims say nothing at all.
Due to circumstances like Erica Kinsman, Annie Clark, and so many other victims, there must be organizations implemented for people to turn to someone they can trust in a moment of fear. In 1972 President Nixon signed Title IX into law. Title IX is a federal statute which prohibits sex discrimination in education programs or activities funded by the government (Seaver).
After being implemented, this law clearly provided protection in things like academics, extracurricular activities, and athletics, but there was still some ambiguity when it came to sexual harassment. There were some revisions that are stated here, “The Revised Sexual Harassment Guidelines, published by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights state that an educational institution must take action to respond to sexual harassment that is so severe and pervasive that it deprives or limits the victim’s enjoyment of educational rights, privileges, advantages, or opportunities” (Seaver).
Government funded educational systems are required to act, yet some schools do so with minimal punishment to the guilty party. The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act states that colleges are required to disclose their crime information with their respective campuses. Schools also have to provide statistics about their sexual assault cases annually (Seaver). There are multiple ways in which schools try to avoid the regulations set by these laws. In order for there to be an actual case, there must be proof that the school had knowledge of the crime committed. A lot of these universities try to convince the victim not to bring the case further which leads to them believing it was their own fault.
The Title IX legislation does not specifically mention sexual assault, but Title IX was first tied to sexual assault allegations by the Second Circuit Court involving male staff in Alexander v. Yale University. The court came to the conclusion that school districts would be accountable for student-on- student sexual assault on three conditions:
- The school have some knowledge of the incident;
- School personnel show no sympathy or interest to the circumstances, and
- The harassment is so severe that it stands in the way of the victims access to educational opportunities (Stader).
These conditions mean that when acts of sexual harassment occur, there should be consequences, but schools find ways to maneuver out of it with things like victim blaming which causes people to turn away from administration in times like this.
The District Court of Connecticut alongside with others established that it was the school’s responsibility to report sexual violence under Title IX. In 2011, the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter to colleges and universities that laid out their duty under Title IX to respond to sexual assault accusations in a timely matter. The “Dear Colleague” letter stated that “a school that knows, or reasonably should know, about possible harassment must promptly investigate to determine what occurred and then take appropriate steps to resolve the situation” (Stader).
Under Title IX, colleges and universities are required to investigate cases that may involve sexual assault as well as hold hearings. These investigators usually don’t go through specific training for dealing with victims of sexual assault trauma therefore victims are more inclined to falsify information or omit some of the truth. This is a crucial part of the Title IX legislation because with false information, Title IX investigators gather inconsistent and inaccurate data (Dudley). The fact that there is no specific training for these investigators can also be a reason as to why some cases are dropped so suddenly. There must be accountability for the trauma that survivors of sexual violence live with when it comes to these hearings and investigations to receive proper information.
The issue of sexual assault has been a topic many people toss to the side, but as new administration considered Brett Kavanaugh as a new Supreme Court Justice there must be more to investigate about sexual assault. Brett Kavanaugh was accused of being a sexual predator by Christine Bailey Ford in the years they shared as teenagers. Kavanaugh was accused of sexually assaulting Ford while she was intoxicated at a party and after these allegations two more women emerged with similar stories (Hauser). There must have been ways in which these women could have reported these incidents at the time of which it happened but the 1980s didn’t provide many resources when it came to sexual assault. Today there can be a change for situations like this with implementation of safe places at every university that students can go to after being a victim of sexual assault. Investigators should be properly trained to deal with trauma ridden students in order to evaluate the situation with this in consideration or else there will be no progress with this system.
Sexual harassment has been a reoccurring issue that leaves victims with long term mental and psychological repercussions that must be put to an end. Both men and women should feel safe in an environment meant for prospering and change. Universities across the United States should implement programs and organizations in order to assist students who find themselves in situations like these to fight for the justice they deserve.