Campus Sexual Assault

Colleges fail to properly curb on-campus sexual assaults.

Sasha Rivera, Asst. Editorial Editor

In U.S. colleges and universities, 673,000 female attendants are survivors of rape. Five percent of college women experience rape or attempted rape every year. Still, only 11 percent of these women report sexual assault to the police, and of those cases reported, less than ten percent actually result in criminal charges against the accused rapist. When students head off to college, they expect an environment that will protect them and enrich their minds. Unfortunately, many colleges try to hide the ugly secret of their incompetency when handling sexual assault cases.

One recent case that has surfaced involves Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz, popularly known as “mattress girl.” In April, she and 22 other students filed federal complaints about Columbia’s handling of their sexual assault cases. Sulkowicz and two other female students accused the same male student of sexual violence, yet the university did not find him guilty.

Title IX, a gender-parity law from 1972, states that universities must arbitrate sexual-assault claims to guarantee gender equality on campus as a civil right. The White House, which has taken a strong position on fighting sexual violence on campuses, has secured a “preponderance of the evidence” standard in these cases so that campus courts only need to find it 51 percent likely the assault transpired to discipline the defendant.

During the Columbia court case, Sulkowicz claims that university administrators acted unprofessionally and incompetently. One took incomplete notes, mistakenly writing that Sulkowicz had been under alcoholic influence the night of the assault, according to New York Magazine.

The male student is still attending Columbia, lying low and unpunished. To prevent his anonymity and make his crime known, Sulkowicz began her mattress protest in September. With the help of other students, she carries the mattress he raped her on every day to class with the hope that he will be reprimanded and expelled. According to Huffington Post, her mattress movement sparked a powerful anti-rape demonstration on Sept. 12, when Columbia students dragged about a dozen heavy mattresses in front of the Alma Mater statue with some mattresses labeled in red tape, “CU has a rape problem.” Students stood behind those mattresses holding signs, while about 50 survivors spoke about their experiences with sexual assault.

In August, Columbia revealed a new sexual assault policy with changes including the addition of case managers as resources for students throughout the adjudication process and mandated education for students found responsible of sexual assault who were permitted to stay on campus. However, students questioned this new policy in a statement signed by activist groups including “No Red Tape Columbia,” “Title IX Team,” “Take Back the Night,” and the “Coalition Against Sexual Violence.” The students stated that student contribution was not considered when the policy was written and that the appeal process was still under the deans’ control, and various other concerns.
Fortunately, the UC schools have also released a new plan to combat sexual misconduct, which includes obligatory training for all students, staff and faculty, enhanced support for victims, and thorough investigations. This plan is in response to the pressure from the U.S. Board of Education which has accused universities, including UC Berkeley and UCLA, of faulty reporting of sexual assault and harassment allegations. A UC survey that was released in March also reported that six percent of undergraduate students had experienced some form of sexual harassment and assault.

Under the UC strategy, the disjointed system among all the ten campuses will become more unified and organized. Each campus will be required to have trained personnel investigate all sexual assault cases as well as separate offices to confidentially support victims, whether formal criminal or campus complaints are made or not. Students and staff will also receive education about granting sexual consent and consequences for any assault or harassment. Administrators also recommended that this instruction be kept separate from alcohol awareness education to prevent the blame falling onto alcohol rather than the perpetrator.

“The message is a very simply one. Our students and faculty and staff should be safe. We will not tolerate sexual assault on our campuses,” stated the UC President Janet Napolitano, who led the development of these proposals, according to the LA Times.

The U.S Department of Education has severely cracked down on college cases of sexual assault in the past few years. It has launched more investigations, acquired more complaints, and given more fines against the universities that ineffectively report sexual misconduct and sexual harassment than ever before. As the issue receives more recognition through media, it seems that finally, colleges and universities are on their way to fostering safer, more gender equal campuses.