(7/11/14) (From the U.S. Senate) According to a report released this week by the United States Senate, approximately one in five undergraduate women has been the victim of sexual violence at U.S. colleges. Missouri Senator, Claire McCaskill, also noted that many institutions are failing to meet their obligations under existing federal law regarding how they handle sexual violence among students. The report is based on a survey of 440 four-year institutions of higher education, which includes a national sample and separate samples of the nation’s largest public and private institutions.
(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 —
(5/2/14) (From the Associated Press/Fox News) The U.S. Department of Defense released a report yesterday detailing a recent 50% rise in sexual assault allegations. The report claims that the sudden rise is due to Pentagon efforts aimed at encouraging victims to come forward and focuses on the need for new prevention programs.
(4/7/14) Last November, we ran an article highlighting the Department of Defense’s (DoD) inability to deal with sexual misconduct in the armed services along with the efforts of one U.S. Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), to solve the problem. The legislation she sponsored, which would have been part of the 2014 DoD Appropriations Bill, called for an independent system when investigating and prosecuting sexually-related complaints in the military. Even though this effort was made on the heels of a 37% year-over-year increase in sexual assault cases in the military, it was ultimately defeated as federal lawmakers voted to let such cases remain under the purview of military chains of command.
Let’s see how that’s working out.
Two years ago, a female Army officer lodged a sexual assault complaint against a Brigadier General who was a top U.S. commander in Afghanistan at the time. In addition to the assault complaint, the accuser also alleged that the commander made death threats against her.
The case, prosecuted by the Army under 2014 rules which omitted Gillibrand’s proposed independent solutions, was just resolved at Fort Bragg, NC after the accused, Jeffrey Sinclair, eventually admitted guilt as part of a plea agreement at his court martial. In addition to pleading guilty to adultery, obstructing justice, criminal cruelty and maltreatment regarding his accuser, he also admitted to committing travel fraud and having two other improper relationships. The charges in his court martial could have landed him in prison for the rest of his life and/or resulted in dismissal from the service (which would have equated to a dishonorable discharge).
The sentence imposed by the military court: A reprimand, a $20,000 fine and approximately $4,000 in restitution for the travel fraud. No jail time. No dismissal.
In a statement following the conclusion of the court martial, Sen. Gillibrand remarked, “This case has illustrated a military justice system in dire need of independence from the chain of command.” We’re going to differ slightly and point out that the system illustrated that need well before this case, but the results of this episode certainly show something still quite amiss when predatory conduct by those entrusted with leadership responsibilities is dealt with by, essentially, a wrist slap from people inside the same system.