A recent NPR news story discusses a nationwide effort from Congress and universities to address the problem of sexual assault on college campuses. Sexual violence is a common and persistent problem on nation’s college campuses. A study by the U.S Department of Justice estimates that one of out four women will either be physically abused or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. As a result of these chilling statistics Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education called in NPR and The Center for Public Integrity to discuss her latest steps in responding to sexual discrimination.
The United States Department of Education is announcing “voluntary resolution agreements” with two schools (Eastern Michigan University and Notre Dame College of Ohio) that had been criticized for the way they handled reported assaults. The most prominent cases of sexual assault in recent memory include the 2006 assault and murder of Laura Dickinson at Eastern Michigan University, the sexual assaults of two students at Notre Dame of Ohio whose assaults were not reported to police until two weeks after school officials were notified, and most recently the suicide of student Elizabeth Seeberg after her alleged sexual assault from a Notre Dame football player.
Secretary Ali entered into agreements with Eastern Michigan University as well as Notre Dame College of Ohio to lay out steps that the schools must take to actively prevent sexual assault and investigate assaults when they do happen. Ali’s department has also begun similar investigations at Ohio State University.
Last week Congress introduced legislation that would expand upon and more explicitly state what colleges and universities are expected to do to prevent sexual assaults and how to respond when an allegation is made. The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act) was introduced by Republican John Duncan and Democrat Thomas Perriello. The bill requires that anytime a student reports a sexual or physical assault that schools be required to explain their right a) to notify law enforcement and b) receive help from the school to report the incident. Schools must also inform students of their right to obtain a civil protective order from a local court. Schools would also be required to hold prevention campaigns to raise awareness about sexual and relationship violence and to know to report it and where to get counseling if a victim.
Legislative actions like these illustrate the importance of a community and national commitment to ending interpersonal violence. In particular, the “bystander education” piece of the bill is critically important as it teaches everyone, men and women, not only that they can prevent sexual assaults and relationship violence, but that they have a responsibility to do so.
If you’re a student at UNC consider attending a One Act or HAVEN training to learn ways that you can be an active bystander in prevention sexual assault and relationship violence on campus! Also starting in February, FVPC will be having our volunteer training for hotline advocates as well as community educators. Volunteering with FVPC is a great way to do your part in interpersonal violence prevention and serve the community in a meaningful way.