Why does it seem like change only occurs once a major problem is brought into the spotlight?
Sexual violence and harassment at colleges has always been a very real, relevant issue, yet we only hear about specific cases when they are reported through large news channels. Last month, I wrote about diminishing sexual assault on college campuses after a Dartmouth student came forward to the administration about a message board titled, “The Dartmouth Rape Guide.” While the administration did little to help the victim, public awareness on sexual assault rose, ultimately reaching the White House and the Department of Education (DOE).
The Government Responds
In January, Obama announced the establishment of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. This task force is clearly needed – 30 Title IX complaints on colleges’ harmful handing of sexual assaults have been filed in the first half of this fiscal year, equal to the total number of complains in all of fiscal 2013.
The most prominent issues identified by the task force are the reluctance of students to report assaults and the lack-of-action taken by schools if a case is reported. These issues have also been the most prominent in the news, demonstrated in the cases of Dartmouth, Harvard, and Tufts.
White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault
The task force plans on developing a reporting and confidentiality plan that will keep victims safe, and encourage them to report sexual assault and violence. The task force also recommends that schools conduct a “climate survey” to test students’ awareness and attitudes towards sexual violence. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Justice Department will create and evaluate sexual violence and harassment prevention strategies.
This week, the DOE declared that Tufts University failed to comply with Title IX, threatening to remove federal funding from the university. The DOE claimed that Tufts did not employ a Title IX coordinator for two academic years, and “allowed for the continuation of a hostile environment” for a particular survivor. Tufts argues that the administration was unaware that they were not abiding by the laws outlined Title IX, and plans to take action immediately to improve their abidance of Title IX.
In other news, Harvard University is also being investigated by the DOE in regards to how they handle sexual violence on campus.
Protection and Prevention?
In the case of sexual assault on college campuses, it appears that the continual coverage and the perpetuation of the subject by news outlets are leading to tangible protection for victims and prevention of future cases of assault. More importantly, without the women and men who spoke out and reported incidents of sexual violence, none of these solutions would have existed today.
While college administrations have not taken enough responsibility, the government has. As one Tufts University student-activist explains,
I know too well the impact of the university’s failure to take sexual assault seriously. While I am disappointed that the same university that failed me in the aftermath of sexual violence has done the same to other survivors, I am grateful for the actions of the Department emphasizing the need for schools to protect students’ rights under Title IX.
We can only hope that sexual assaults and the lack of school responsibility will diminish for good with the establishment of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. We should also praise the victims of sexual assault who were brave enough to speak out – these students are the real advocates for change.