The Center for Public Integrity has released a new series of reports which argues that college women who are sexually assaulted often find themselves facing a campus culture of secrecy, where it is difficult to report the assault and take action. The Center, an investigative journalism organization, based its conclusions on a survey of 152 crisis services programs and clinics on or near college campuses and interviews with 48 officials familiar with the college disciplinary process and 33 women who reported being raped by other college students.
Barriers include the fact that “many victims don’t report at all because they blame themselves or don’t identify what happened as sexual assault.” The fact that sexual assaults on college campuses are underreported is compounded by the fact that , when they are reported, criminal justice authorities frequently “shy away” from such cases, and approach them as if they were a “he said/she said” situation, rather than treating it as a legitimate crime. Such barriers, writes Kristin Lombardi, a co-author of the study, often “leave [the victims] victimized a second time.”
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that in Pennsylvania, “226 forcible sex offenses — most in residence halls — were reported in 2007 by 542 post-secondary schools as required under the federal Clery Act.” However, S. Daniel Carter, director of public policy for Security on Campus Inc., adds that this figure is likely only a “small fraction of the scope of the problem,” because of challenges such as peer pressure and ignorance as to what programs are available for victims.
Although the university system is obviously not aiding victims in the way it should, some attempts are being made within the Pennsylvania government to address this problem. Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre County, is trying to win support for legislation that would necessitate rape and sexual violence awareness programs for all students entering a Pennsylvania college or university. Conklin introduced the legislation in 2007, but it did not become law. Introduced again this year, it passed the House with 196 in favor in May and is now in the Senate Education Committee.
While passing this bill would certainly be a step in the right direction, as education is always the first step to a greater awareness, universities need to be held responsible for doing more than just informing their students about the prevalence of rape and sexual assault on college campuses. Victims of sexual violence need to be taken seriously, and not shamed into silence or off-the-record negotiations with dorm administrators. Furthermore, students who perpetuate sexual violence need to be held accountable for that violence, which does not mean a slap on the wrist, or a ‘warning.’ Sexual violence is a serious crime; it’s about time people start treating it that way.