A Response to White House Task Force Findings on Campus Sexual Assault in the U.S.
Today marks an important step in our nation’s progress toward addressing violence against women on college campuses. Futures Without Violence and our partners—The Gender Violence Program at Harvard Law School, National Women’s Law Center, National PTA, and Hollaback!—commend President Obama and Vice President Biden for their personal commitment and investment in forming the White House task force and issuing these critical recommendations.
We strongly urge presidents of colleges and other educational institutions to read and implement these recommendations. We fully support their call for increased transparency and accountability to enforcing the laws already on the books. The new tools for data collection, prevention programming, community partnerships, and trauma-informed responses will help schools to give students a safer college experience.
However, we are eager to see increased effort around the following actions for change:
- Partner with Parents
Parents are national experts on their children and care the most about this issue, but they’re very often left out of the conversation. Despite all the criticism of helicopter parents, this is the time for them to hover low. The new website http://www.notalone.gov will help parents identify which schools are willing to be transparent and show their efforts to improve. This is an important first step, but information and outreach for parents should begin in high school, if not before and be amplified on every visit that a parent makes with a son or daughter to a prospective college. The most at-risk time for a college freshman/woman is the first 15 weeks of school—parents should understand when young students are more vulnerable to be targeted by potential offenders.
- Know Your Numbers
We agree that there is an immediate need for better data and analysis of the extent and consequences of sexual violence on campuses and applaud the development of a new toolkit for understanding a school’s climate. We know the current data are unreliable and often collected by universities which have a stake in minimizing the problem. Knowing the real numbers can help build the right prevention and response strategies, and help us measure our collective success. A good analysis of data collected on a regular basis can help us figure out which schools really are the safest. High numbers or low numbers alone can be misleading; they need to be explained in context of reporting rates, prevention strategies and an environment that supports survivors’ disclosures. We call on schools to test these tools with the promise of standardizing their use.
- Speak Up and Bring Rape Culture Down
All U.S. colleges need ongoing prevention programming as mentioned in the recommendations. We need programs, workshops and solutions to create campus cultures that promote respectful attitudes toward all students and non-violent behavior –and they should start on the day an incoming freshman/woman steps foot on campus. Engaging all bystanders, especially male leaders in athletic programs and fraternities on campus, is essential if we are to change the culture that tolerates and even condones this behavior.
- Enforce the Laws—Title IX and the Clery Act
We must enforce the existing laws, and give the Department of Education the tools to hold campuses accountable for violence and harassment that takes place under their watch and ensure that every college has a Title IX coordinator on staff. Universities and the federal government need to be transparent about the procedures they have in place for responding to victims.
- Improve the Tools
Not every college Health Center in the U.S. has been given the tools and training required to serve their students. While colleges need to expand their partnerships in the community, such as mentioned specific to rape crisis centers, we also need to improve access to trained counselors and build the leadership of college health centers to prevent and respond to gender-based violence that occurs both on and off campus.
- Start Earlier
The problem of sexual assault on campus doesn’t begin or end in college. Rather, many of the negative gender attitudes and behaviors begin much earlier. We believe that attention must be paid to K-12 programs that educate students and engage parents to help young people develop healthy relationships and identities and reject inequality and violence. A specific focus on engaging men in college is a big step forward, but gender norms are formed much earlier and a focus on elementary and secondary schools is critical.
In 2012, FUTURES led a coalition of advocates and academics to create BEYOND TITLE IX: Guidelines for Preventing and Responding to Gender-based Violence in Higher Education.
Today, we continue to stand with our partners who are eager to see ideas put into action on campuses all over the country.
Futures Without Violence
For more than 30 years, Futures Without Violence has led the way and set the pace for innovative educational programs, public action campaigns, policy development, and leadership training designed to end violence against women, children, and families around the world. Instrumental in developing the landmark Violence Against Women Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1994, Futures Without Violence has established an International Conference Center that will engage today’s diverse national and global leaders, stand with survivors, and continue working to break the silence around gender-based violence. Learn more at www.futureswithoutviolence.org.