In recent years there have been numerous reports across the nation of sexual assaults and rapes occurring on our college campuses. Think Vanderbilt, Stanford, University of Virginia, William & Mary, Yale, Brooklyn College, etc.
Twenty-five percent of college women are victims of sexual assault. In addition, four percent of college men are sexually assaulted. Any number larger than 0 percent for either gender is too high and deserves attention.
Bolstered by social media and a sense of injustice, hundreds of students and activists nationwide have formed a movement to force colleges to change how they handle reports of rape. The long-simmering issue has reached a boil: Organizers, who say they are angry with their colleges for turning a blind eye to sexual violence and for failing to help prevent it, are now filing federal complaints against their colleges. The government, already having pushed institutions to do more on sexual assault, is taking a heightened interest, too.
The movement has zeroed in on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Meant to prohibit sex discrimination at institutions that receive federal funds, the law requires colleges to investigate and resolve reports of sexual misconduct, including assault, whether or not the police are called in. That mandate has proven to be a challenge for many colleges, whose disciplinary processes are often better suited for infractions like plagiarism or cheating than interpersonal violence.
In their complaints to federal authorities, students and alumni have faulted campus officials for missteps at nearly every juncture: Telling students who report rape to take time off until their assailants graduate. Treating judicial cases like educational exercises. Slapping perpetrators with penalties less severe than those for stealing a laptop.
With every news conference, rally, petition, and testimonial, activists’ message has grown louder. Sexual assault doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of campus life, they say. Don’t brush off our experiences as dates gone wrong, or drunken naïveté. Title IX compels you to take us seriously.
The emergence of this movement now has several possible causes. It could come from a persistent sense among college women that their institutions are neglectful of their safety. Rape survivors may feel more comfortable than previous generations in talking openly about their experiences. And activists’ ease with technology and social media has enabled rapid collaboration.
This wave of action builds on decades of campus activism against sexual violence. Students have long held Take Back the Night marches, walking en masse in the dark. They have pressed for women’s centers, and to raise awareness they have displayed colorful T-shirts—red, pink, and orange for survivors of sexual assault—through The Clothesline Project.
This 2014 V-Season, V-Day will be focusing on college campuses, bringing global attention to revamping sexual assault policy on college campuses through their “CampusRising Campaign (including a new CampusRising monologue). The widespread dialogue about reforming sexual assault policies on college campuses is part of V-Day’s legacy. They’ve devoted 15 years to highlighting violence against women and girls, in all it’s forms, in communities around the world. Now it’s time for our incredible college and university activists to turn their attention inward and examine and explode campus injustices. Together we will focus on ending the prevalence of on-campus sexual assault and date rape, and administrations’ failure to properly prevent or adequately respond to the needs of college survivors. On February 14, 2014, CampusRising will escalate the work of individual V-Day campus groups to a global effort. (NOTE: read about V-Day and SAFER‘s Campus Accountability Project here.)
Are you a college/university student? Please consider completing V-Day’s CampusRising Survey, sharing how sexual assault is handled on your campus. If you are new on campus and unsure of campus policy, consider using this survey to ask the questions of staff and administration to become familiar.