Sexual Assault on College Campuses
By Julia Stevens
At this very moment, an epidemic is pervading college campuses across America. There may very well be a few new cases by the time you finish reading this. It’s not the most recent strain of the flu, despite the inadequate protection provided by this season’s vaccine. It’s not a return of the meningitis strain that hit UC Santa Barbara and Princeton in 2013. And no, the Ebola virus hasn’t returned to American soil. It’s sexual assault.
The UCLA School of Public Health defines an epidemic as “the occurrence in a community or region of cases of an illness (or an outbreak) with a frequency clearly in excess of normal expectancy.” According to the National Institute of Justice and The Campus Sexual Assault Study conducted by five researchers touting a collection of PhD’s and Masters Degrees, one in five women, and one in sixteen men, will experience sexual assault between freshman and senior year of college. This alarming rate of sexual assault is certainly not what we should expect at higher education institutions, and is “in excess of normal expectancy” for the general public, where rape and sexual assault cases occur among one in six women, and one in thirty-three men. But few seem alarmed. Meanwhile, the opposite situation can be observed when looking at the meningitis outbreaks on college campuses in 2013, which yielded an infinitesimal rise in the infection rate of about 1,000 to 1,200 individuals per year, which is one in 265,000 at the high end, or about .0000037% of the US population. To stop the spread, a bypass of the FDA’s standards was made to distribute an unapproved meningococcal vaccination to students. Federal legislation was rightly bypassed to address a rise in the .0000037% chance of contracting meningitis at American institutions, yet little has been done to address the 20% prevalence of sexual assault.
Sexual assault occurs at every school in the California State system, every school in the University of California System, every junior college in the nation, every vocational school, every school in the Ivy League, every school in the country. A sexual assault rate of 20% at colleges should be a significant public health and safety concern garnering the attention and action of leadership at higher education institutions, but action has been minimal. Beginning in October 2014, 85 institutions of higher education were placed under federal investigation for the mishandling of reports of sexual assault. This list includes UCLA, UC Berkeley, Harvard College, Dartmouth College, Princeton, and Brown to name a few that may sound familiar. Many colleges just fall in line with the American standard for dealing with sexual assault cases. There are over 500,000 unprocessed rape kits across the United States. These medical kits contain documentation of a full body medical examination that includes taking samples of victims’ hair, urine, blood, and other bodily secretions, as well as victims’ clothing, especially undergarments. The purpose of these kits is to collect samples fit for forensic investigations that could bring perpetrators of sexual assault to justice. But justice rarely comes even when kits are properly tested. Only 7% of sexual assault cases result in an arrest, 3% are then referred to prosecutors, and 2% are convicted of a felony and spend time in prison. The failures of the system in dealing with perpetrators of sexual assault leave the >70% of women assaulted who knew their attacker at the time of assault a 98% chance of encountering them again. This is a serious possibility, for the Center for Public Integrity records found that only 10% to 25% of students found guilty of perpetrating sexual assault are kicked off college campuses. Senator McCaskill’s April 2014 Congressional Survey on the effective institution of Title IX and the Clery Act found that over 40% of colleges have not conducted investigations into campus sexual assaults in the last five years. It also revealed that 21% of colleges had not provided school staff with any basic training on how to handle sexual assault cases. 73% of schools had no established protocol for working with local law enforcement on reports of sexual assault. 81% of women and 35% of men develop long term or short term effects from rape, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Compared to the rest of the population, victims’ likeliness of developing depression after being sexually assaulted is three times greater, development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is six times greater, alcohol abuse is thirteen times more prevalent, drug abuse is twenty-six times more prevalent, and victims are four times more likely to contemplate suicide. Despite sexual assault rates halving since 1993, a sexual assault still occurs every 107 seconds.
There is still much ground for our nation to cover in addressing sexual assault at institutions of higher education, but it can be done. To quote President Barrack Obama in the “It’s On Us” campaign by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault in September 2014, “It is on all of us to reject the quiet tolerance of sexual assault and to refuse to accept what’s unacceptable.” I concur. If you or someone you know may be a victim of sexual assault, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE or go online to notalone.gov to find resources that may be helpful.