(5/19/14) Following a U.S. Government report detailing the growing problem of sexual assaults nationwide, Vice President Joe Biden recently announced new policy recommendations on behalf of the Obama Administration specifically focused on curbing sex crimes on American campuses.
The report, prepared by a task force that included the White House Council on Women and Girls, recommended strategies to improve identifying sexual assault issues on campuses, stepping up prevention programs, developing better response processes once sex crimes are reported and raising the profile of federal enforcement efforts. Additionally, as part of a detailed summary of the growing problem, the report points out that college students are particularly at risk, claiming that 20% of women have been sexually assaulted while in college.
The government’s new stance is coming at a time where several high-profile universities–all of which receive federal subsidies–are facing various public controversies regarding mishandling of sexual assault, harassment or gender discrimination claims. For example, just last month, Brown University was forced to backpedal on a decision to temporarily suspend a student involved in a sexual assault on another Brown student. The decision, which would have allowed the attacker to seek readmission this fall, caused the victim in the incident to publicly criticize the university’s response and incited a campus-wide outcry and social media frenzy. During the escalation of the matter, the assailant voluntarily decided not to seek readmission, but the episode planted a huge spotlight on university policies and decisions that have failed to adequately address such incidents for many years.
As serious as incidents such as the Brown controversy are, the fact that they’re now receiving widespread publicity is actually major plus in the effort to get a handle on the problem. Where academic institutions were once very quick to play down or hide such incidents in order to preserve their reputations, elevating visibility across the board and adding the White House’s voice to the mix enables positive peer pressure and a strength in numbers public relations strategy where all organizations can be more openly proactive.
Ultimately, the government’s current efforts, though long in the making, are helping to initiate a climate where academia can openly acknowledge the crisis and get on the right side of the rising tide against it. Let’s hope they put their backs into it rapidly.
For additional information regarding efforts to curb violence against women, we strongly recommend:
This TEDx speech by anti-sexist activist, Dr. Jackson Katz, co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention —
And this amateur video of Star Trek and X-Men star, Patrick Stewart, replying to a fan’s question about his personal role in preventing violence against women —