Blog

Month: June 2014

Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, June 27, 2014

California has a large college-aged population due to its singularly massive system of state schools, and more-progressive-than-average state government. Lately, it is also the source of developments in the fight against campus sexual assault that are of interest, and might even have ramifications, nationwide. So, even if you’re not in California, here are three from recent weeks that have sparked interest across the nation and abroad.

Controversy Rages Over SB 967

Back in February we reported on SB 967, the California Senate Bill that would require colleges and universities to define sexual assault as being any sexual activity that occurred without ongoing affirmative consent from both parties. Since its proposal, SB 967 has been passed by the California State Senate and is currently working its way through the Assembly. While the bill has not yet been signed into law, it continues to generate controversy, with thoughtful arguments coming from both sides of the debate.

State Auditor: California Universities Need More Training

California’s state auditor has released a report on the topic of California universities’ response to sexual assault. Their conclusion? That California can and should do more to prevent and respond to sexual assault. Chief among the report’s recommendations is increased training on how to respond to a sexual assault report for the faculty and staff most likely to “be the first point of contact,” including dorm advisors and athletic coaches. It also called for awareness campaigns on California campuses, and for schools to do a better job keeping victim/survivors informed of the results of conduct proceedings against their attackers.

Napolitano Forms UC Task Force on Sexual Assault

The University of California’s ten campuses are governed by a single 26-member Board of Regents. When UC Berkeley was added to the list of schools currently under Title IX investigation by the Department of Education, the whole system came under scrutiny. University of California President Janet Napolitano has announced the creation of a task force to address campus sexual assault, made up of members of the UC Board of Regents, as well as students, advocates, student conduct officers, administrators, and campus law enforcement. The task force will “develop best practices for all areas of sexual violence prevention, investigation, and response systemwide.” The UC system has also implemented policy changes, including an updated definition of consent and more sexual assault training, intended to prevent sexual violence and support victim/survivors.

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Free Posters Supporting Male Survivors
Posted by On Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Silence Helps No ONeMen are also victims of sexual assault. The Campus Sexual Assault Study (cited in the White House Task Force’s “Not Alone” report) found that 6.1% of men had been victims of completed or attempted sexual assault. And, according to the CDC, 28.5% of men have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime (compared to 35.6% of women).

As with female survivors, male survivors may blame themselves for the assault or deny that what happened was a crime. Men may also feel reluctant to report, fearing that they will be perceived as weak for not fighting off the attacker or that showing pain and hurt is not “masculine.”

Raising awareness about male survivors can help create a more supportive environment, encouraging them to seek help and report the crime. These posters help bring this important issue to light and can be a valuable piece of any school’s prevention program.

Download the posters here:

  1. Silence Helps No One
  2. Abuse is Blind to Gender
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You Are Invited to Comment on Proposed Regulations
Posted by On Monday, June 23, 2014

On Friday, June 20th — nearly fifteen months after the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 was signed into law — the Department of Education published the proposed regulations to implement the Campus SaVE Act and other amendments to the Clery Act in the Federal Register. Comments are due in 30 days — on July 21, 2014 — and the regulations are expected to become final around November 1, 2014, with an estimated effective date of July 1, 2015.

While the ED points out the VAWA amendments to the Clery Act do “not affect in any way” Title IX compliance, it should also be noted that the proposed regulations are not entirely consistent with Title IX requirements. For example, the standard of evidence used in disciplinary proceedings involving sexual assault must be disclosed in an institution’s Annual Security Report but the regulations do not specify what that standard of proof should be. The ED points out, however, that schools “can comply with Title IX and the Clery Act by using a preponderance of evidence standard.” In other words, if you use another standard you’ll violate Title IX (see the ED Office for Civil Rights’ significant guidance document Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence), but nothing in the proposed regulations says you have to use the preponderance of evidence standard.

Under the proposed regulations, descriptions of these procedural requirements for disciplinary proceedings will also need to be included in the ASRs due on October 1, 2014:

  • the different types of investigations and hearings used for dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking cases
  • the steps, timelines, and decision-making process for each type of proceeding
  • how the school decides which type of proceeding to use in a particular case

Again, the proposed regulations don’t spell out what these procedural requirements should be, but schools should look to the OCR’s Q&A for guidance on these issues.

The rulemaking committee also debated whether the whole list of possible sanctions for accused students and protective measures for complainants should be disclosed in the school’s ASR. The argument for transparency won so that schools would be required to disclose an “exhaustive list of sanctions” against students found responsible for misconduct. Whereas schools would only be required to disclose a range of protective measures that could be used to protect a victim’s confidentiality, which preserves the school’s flexibility to address safety issues.

While the rulemaking committee reached consensus on these proposed regulations, the ED is especially interested in hearing ideas on how to resolve questions about reporting Clery crime statistics in the ASR like these:

  • where does a stalking incident end and another stalking incident begin?
  • how do you report a continuing stalking incident that spans more than one year or occurs on more than one campus?
  • should information about incidents of Clery crimes include information about the relationship between the perpetrator and victim?

While the regulations are fairly comprehensive, the ED intends to provide “further clarification and guidance” on issues not addressed in the regulations, such as consent, and to help schools better understand these regulatory requirements.

If you want to have a voice in shaping the rules on any issue covered in the proposed regulations, submit your “constructive, information-rich” comments before 11:59 ET on Monday, July 21, 2014, following these “Tips for Submitting Effective Comments“:

  • comment on issues that are of most concern to your institution
  • cite expertise, experience, or data that supports your position
  • offer constructive criticism or support on a particular rule
  • suggest an alternative approach and explain why it would be more effective
  • offer examples of negative or positive results from the proposed rule
  • provide quantitative or qualitative data on the economic effects of the rules
  • address opposing points of view

Comments can be submitted online and are available for public viewing on Regulations.gov.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, June 20, 2014

How are schools across the country responding to the fast growing pressure to address sexual assault on their campuses? This week we bring you stories about a variety of different approaches, some of them successful, some of them less successful, and some of them still in the difficult process of being perfected.

Colleges Need to Worry About Their Students, Not Their Brand

With schools across the country scrambling to respond to the growing public and governmental pressure to address sexual assault, Dana Bulger, founder and co-director of Know Your IX, worries that their responses will focus too much on protecting the school’s image and avoiding litigation, at the expense of students’ well-being and safety. Bulger points to the presentation prepared by a Washington law firm and sponsored by a higher education lobbying group in response to Senator McCaskill’s sexual assault survey sent to about 350 colleges. The presentation characterizes the survey as “fodder for additional investigation” and Congressional investigations as a “‘Wild West’ without real rules,” which Bulger believes leads schools tofocus too much on the question of “What will play well on TV?” Hopefully most schools prioritize students over their brand, but Bulger’s article is a reminder of the importance of choosing a prevention program that can effect real change on campus.

How Should a College Define Consent?

One of the trickiest aspects of efforts to adequately address sexual assault is the question of how schools’ sexual assault policies should define consent. Many schools are shifting from a “No means no” model to one based on the more affirmative “Yes means yes.” In other words, school policies are beginning to recognize that consent is not just about respecting active rejection of sexual advances. It’s also about actively seeking and giving explicit permission for sexual activity. Of course, the question remains of how to define “Yes.” Some schools, like Antioch College, are attempting to remove any ambiguity by requiring “clear and enthusiastic” verbal agreements to sex: “Can I do X?” responded to with “Yes.” Others are attempting to leave room for the diversity of human communication, though naturally leaving room for nonverbal communication leads to difficult-to-parse ambiguities. In any case, it seems certain that the issue is not one that will be resolved without a great deal of thought and discussion.

Improv Against Sexual Assault

In order to encourage students and others to think through such issues themselves, schools and other organizations, including the United States military, have turned to a novel teaching tool: the improv company Catharsis Productions and their show Sex Signals. Created in 1999 by Christian Murphy and Dr. Gail Stern, a professional performer and rape crisis counselor/standup comedian, Sex Signals depicts scenes such as a man attempting to pick up a woman in a bar and a sexual assault scenario in order to engage their audience in a discussion about consent. The audience is given “Stop” signs so that they can weigh in on when consent has and has not been given, and the performers ask those in attendance tough, thought-provoking questions about the scenarios being played out. What should these people do? Was this a rape? Who is at fault? Why? This creative approach to teaching consent seems to be getting results. When Sex Signals first started showing on college campuses in 2000, it was performed on eight campuses. This year, it will be performed at more than 2,500. But, as Catharsis employees point out, Sex Signals is just one part of changing the culture to motivate bystanders to do something when the notice someone is in a risky situation.

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Free Healthy Relationships Posters
Posted by On Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Healthy_Relationship_RespectLast year, 9.5% of college students reported being in an emotionally abusive intimate relationship, and 2.3% reported being in a physically abusive intimate relationship, according to the latest data from the National College Health Assessment survey. Helping students identify potentially abusive relationships and modelling healthy relationships should be an important part of every school’s prevention program.

To that end, we’re putting up a series of three posters that were part of a healthy relationships campaign at the University of San Francisco. The posters, designed by Jennifer Waryas at USF, draw on ideas from the “Healthy Relationships” section of Think About It, each highlighting a different key component of healthy relationships: attraction, enjoyment, and respect. These tabloid size color posters are available as PDF files suitable for desktop printing.

Healthy Relationships = Respect

Healthy Relationships = Attraction

Healthy Relationships = Enjoyment

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, June 13, 2014

For this week’s roundup, we’re taking a look at the other side of cases, statistics, and thought pieces that have been widely publicized in the ongoing national conversation about campus sexual assault.

The Rise in Campus Sexual Assaults Being Reported Might be a Good Thing

Between 2001 and 2011 the number of sexual assaults reported on college campuses rose 52%, from 2,200 to 3,300. Counter-intuitively, that striking rise may in fact be a good thing. Given the fact that the rise in reported assaults corresponds with increasing pressure on colleges and universities to handle sexual assault cases more openly and effectively, it seems likely that the rise in reported assaults indicates not a rise in sexual violence on American campuses but in the percentage of that violence which is officially acknowledged and, hopefully, addressed. And, as a result of colleges acknowledging the problem victims feel empowered to come forward, increasing the number of reported incidents.

Young Men Accused of Sexual Assault Fight Back

It turns out that victims of sexual assault aren’t the only ones unhappy with the way various schools have handled their cases. Their accused assailants are beginning to complain as well, filing lawsuits against their schools and even Title IX complaints alleging bias in favor of victims in disciplinary hearings that discriminates against men. For example, Brown student Daniel Kopin, the alleged perpetrator of a violent rape that has gained national attention, has taken the largely unprecedented step of having his lawyers send a letter to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, to “make sure that his reputation wasn’t further damaged in any action the OCR might take because of [the victim's] complaint.” This emerging pushback against more effective policing of sexual violence on college campuses is a reminder of how crucial it is that disciplinary procedures to resolve complaints of sexual assault  be “adequate, reliable, impartial, and prompt.”

George Will’s Sexual Assault Column Sparks Outrage

A recent George Will column alleging that efforts to fight campus sexual assault “make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges” has, understandably, provoked outrage. The piece has the National Organization for Women calling for Will’s dismissal from his position with the Washington Post, and a host of commentators pointing out numerous inaccuracies in the piece. These include his supposed refutation of the statistic that 1 in 5 women will be assaulted in college (his numbers were taken from a single university, currently under investigation for Title IX violations) and his reliance on Clery Act statistics, which are, according to Representative Jackie Speier “notoriously underreported.” The column also provoked this response from four U.S. Senators: “The culture you described is so antiquated, so counterintuitive and so contrary to anything we hear that we hope you will make an effort to hear the stories survivors bravely share with us …” Moreover, it seems that Will’s contention that young women would covet the status of sexual assault victim is, given the treatment of sexual assault victims at numerous schools, highly questionable at best, and, in light of studies that show that false rape accusations are exceedingly rare (between 2% and 8%), a dangerous perpetuation of rape myths at worst.

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Party Smart 21st Birthday Card
Posted by On Tuesday, June 10, 2014

As part of our continuing effort to help you help students with free downloadable resources on our blog, today we’re publishing a creative resource generously shared with us by the University of San Francisco. USF’s Talk About It 21st Birthday Card is a clever way of raising awareness about safe drinking strategies among students who will be drinking (or at least drinking legally) for the first time. The card, which you can print out from the files below to send to your students, includes tips from the “Party Smart” section of our award-winning online training program Think About It, so that when students celebrate their milestone birthday with its newly gained freedoms (and accompanying responsibilities), they’ll be ready to do so safely and responsibly.

  1. Generic Party Smart 21st Birthday Card PDF
  2. Customizable Party Smart 21st Birthday Card Word Document
  3. Customizable Party Smart 21st Birthday Card Adobe Illustrator File

We’ve included not only a PDF of a generic card, but also a Word document and the original Adobe Illustrator file, so that you can customize the card with your school’s name, school colors, emergency services contact information, and anything else you want to add to this informative and important birthday greeting.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, June 6, 2014

This week we’re following up with three stories we reported on in earlier Weekly Roundups.

Alumni Network Battles Sexual Assault

A few weeks ago we reported on alumni who are fighting sexual assault at the alma maters by withholding or diverting donations in protest of ineffective or ill-conceived sexual assault policies. Now, a rapidly growing group of alumni are taking one step further by coordinating their efforts against sexual assault. Alumni activists from the University of Chicago, Yale, Occidental, Columbia, Dartmouth, and numerous other campuses are banding together to figure out how they can use their donations and, in many cases, considerable wealth and influence to positively affect the cultures of the schools they used to call home. This fight has particular urgency for many former student activists, who bemoan the need to fight for change they were calling decades ago.

Bans on Powdered Alcohol

Last month we brought you this story about a new powdered form of alcohol  called “Palcohol” and the problems it could pose for school administrators. Now, at least two states have decided that those issues are enough cause for concern to justify temporary bans on alcohol in powdered form. Vermont banned powdered alcohol last month, and now South Carolina’s House of Representatives, citing concerns about the regulation of alcohol in non-liquid form, have voted unanimously to send a bill banning the powdered versions of various kinds of liquor on to the governor for approval. Unsurprisingly, one of the chief regulatory concerns cited by South Carolina lawmakers was how this product could be used to effectively circumvent laws that define alcohol as a liquid. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer asked the Food and Drug Administration to keep Palcohol out of the hands of underage drinkers, predicting it would become “the Kool-Aid of teen binge drinking.”

U.S. News Says It Won’t Include Sexual Assault Data in College Rankings

We’ve reported on both the pros and the cons of U.S. News and World Report factoring the number of on-campus sexual assaults at a given institution into its college rankings. Following lawmakers’ calls for the publication to begin including sexual assault data in its rankings, U.S. News has issued a definitive decision on the matter. Due to their concerns about the accuracy of such data, and their belief that such information, even if it could be measured accurately, would not be relevant to the rankings’ purpose of determining the academic quality of a given school, U.S. News does not plan to factor sexual assault prevalence into its college rankings now or at any time in the foreseeable future. It will, however, include such information on the online profile page for individual schools and acknowledges the importance of campus safety to students’ college experience.

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Second Roundtable Discussion: Title IX
Posted by On Thursday, June 5, 2014

The second of three roundtable discussions focused on the role Title IX plays in the issue of campus sexual harassment and sexual violence, as well as what Senator McCaskill described as how to address “inadequate training, inadequate resources, and little proactive enforcement.” Among the topics discussed were:

  • the importance of customizing a school’s prevention program to meet the unique needs of that particular campus community
  • increasing penalties and proactive enforcement by regulators
  • making it easier to sue a college or university for damages suffered as a result of its mishandling a complaint
  • creating transparency around best practices for Title IX compliance

Customized Compliance
Senator Jon Tester of Montana talked about the Title IX investigation of the University of Montana by the Departments of Justice and Education. Jocelyn Samuels, the DOJ’s Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, noted that the agreements reached with the University of Montana and its Office of Public Safety serve as a “model for other universities around the country to be able to adopt the kind of proactive steps necessary to really address these problems,” including:

  • having a unified set of policies that comply with the law and are easily accessible to the campus community
  • ensuring that everyone on campus knows their rights and responsibilities when it comes to dealing with sexual assault
  • providing proper training for school officials, students, and anyone involved in the investigative or disciplinary process
  • promptly responding to complaints
  • taking corrective action whenever sexual assault occurs
  • collecting data on the scope of the problem at a particular campus so that the school is taking informed measures to address the problem

Emphasizing the last point, Ms. Samuels said it’s important for every institution to engage with members of its community to make sure that serious steps are being taken to customize prevention efforts to the needs of individual schools.

Proactive Enforcement and Private Lawsuits
Laura Dunn suggested at the first roundtable that the penalty for Clery Act violations be calculated as a percentage of the institution’s gross revenue so that it hurts large institutions and doesn’t overwhelm smaller institutions, and that idea was brought up again at the second roundtable discussion. McCaskill asked, “how do you impact change on the thousands of campuses out there . . . that’s kind of where I think we need to be going if we can figure out a way to do it that’s not draconian on small universities and meaningful to larger universities.”

Besides penalties, Senator McCaskill suggested that making it easier for students to prevail in private lawsuits for monetary damages could also encourage Title IX compliance by a college or university. Ms. Samuel noted that the standard for obtaining an injunction is less demanding, requiring a showing that the school has not taken “reasonable steps” to address the sexual misconduct, instead of the standard for obtaining money damages, which requires proving that the institution was “deliberately indifferent,” or took no action to address the situation.

Other suggestions to make private lawsuits a viable option included extending the statute of limitations beyond 180 days and making the standard of review for Title IX complaints consistent at the OCR’s twelve regional offices.

Best Practices

Transparency around regulatory investigations was a popular topic, and Ms. Noble-Triplett, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Missouri, noted that she would also like to have access to information about “those institutions that have demonstrated sustainable, evidence-based results from doing things well.”

As with many discussions at the roundtable, this came back to the duty of the institution to educate its campus community on their rights and responsibilities to address the sexual assault problem. Noble-Triplett suggested that instead of creating a compliance mentality with more legislation, a more effective approach would be to create more accountability within an institution.

Also, Ms. Noble-Triplett noted that the correlation between alcohol and substance abuse with sexual assault cannot be ignored where the institution is faced with changing the campus culture.

At the end of the second session, panelists got a chance to talk about their wish list which includes a:

  • website for Title IX officers that provides information, such as the best practices and other helpful information from regulators
  • list of forensic investigator training competencies required since training results are inconsistent (McCaskill suggested looking at military training)

Look for draft legislation in late June which, according to McCaskill, needs to have “the right mix of regulation, support, and penalties.” The discussion at the next roundtable set for June 23rd will center on using disciplinary proceedings and the criminal justice system to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable.

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Roundtable Theme: Training and Consequences
Posted by On

First Roundtable Discussion: The Clery Act and the Campus SaVE Act

Senator Claire McCaskill opened the first of three roundtable discussions on campus sexual assault by stating her goal to tackle the “complex labyrinth of different rules between SaVE and Clery and Title IX . . . and see if we can simplify, clarify, augment, support, perhaps provide more mandatory training but with the grants that go with that so that universities can access grants to help train people on campuses . . ..”

Yes, that means yet more new federal laws are being drafted on campus sexual assault, which McCaskill hopes to introduce by the end of the month. Here are some of the topics that were discussed, which we’ll explain in more detail below:

  • making school employees mandated reporters
  • training students and employees about reporting responsibilities and confidentiality
  • stepping up enforcement of Clery Act compliance

Training and Mandated Reporting
As a former prosecutor of sex crimes, Sen. McCaskill is focused on bringing perpetrators to the criminal justice system and the only way to do that is if a crime is reported. The discussion about training began with McCaskill asking if all school employees should be mandated to report information about sexual violence to campus authorities.

Laura Dunn, a victim advocate and survivor of sexual assault, raised serious concerns about taking that control away from the victim-survivor: “I promise you if we handle this issue well it will go up on its own, you don’t ever have to mandate [reporting] . . . When we see that consequence we know it’s safer for us to speak out.”

McCaskill responded, “the vast majority of these perpetrators are not even getting a criminal interview . . . they’re never having that moment where the police officer sits across the table from them and asks them the difficult questions. We aren’t going to get any meaningful deterrence on this problem until that begins happening. So there is a chicken and egg problem here.”

Two panel members pointed out that training students and employees is a critical piece of any mandated reporter legislation. Holly Rider-Milkovich of the University of Michigan cautioned that, “If we require faculty especially but also staff to report information then number one we have to vigorously educate our student body about where there are confidential resources and about the responsibilities of anyone who they share information with to report and also we need to ensure that every member who has an obligation to report also has an equally robust training so that they are appropriately responding to that student . . ..”

Alison Kiss with the Clery Center for Security on Campus agreed that there needs to be “training about what do you do when a student discloses and how you handle that disclosure, [because] if there is not training then it could have a chilling effect . . ..” Kiss also pointed out that the legal definitions of sexual assault required in a school’s education program must be “in the language that students may understand what happened to them—I can actually be raped by my friend.”

McCaskill later commented on the state definitions of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, “We cannot define for states elements of their crimes.” However, she is concerned about the fact that in sixteen states lack of consent requires that the perpetrator used force or threatened to use force. So, McCaskill will be looking at ways to “incentivize states to update their definitions of consent.”

Regulatory Enforcement
McCaskill also noted the need to “step up the enforcement side” instead of “waiting for another tragedy to hit the front pages.” According to Lynn Mahaffie with the Department of Education, there are currently only thirteen auditors who conduct about twenty Clery compliance reviews per year. The Department plans to double the number of auditors over the next few years, although even that increase will barely scratch the surface of the 7,000+ campuses covered by these laws.

Moreover, Laura Dunn pointed out that there is no integration of effort between the Office for Civil Rights that enforces all civil rights laws, including Title IX compliance, and the Federal Student Aid office that enforces Clery compliance. Ms. Dunn said, “If you’re going to spend money somewhere, please spend it on enforcement.” The absence of a specialized enforcement unit is a big part of the problem, according to Dunn: “We spend all day making laws, making rules, making regulations. It’s overwhelming institutions and when it comes to survivors who ask for enforcement we don’t even have specialized enforcers who know the details of this law or even work together.”

McCaskill jumped in here and suggested, “at least force integration” to help institutions figure out how to put these three different laws—Title IX, the Clery Act, and the Campus SaVE Act—together and streamline their compliance efforts. This provides a great segue into the second roundtable discussion on Title IX, which is the subject of a separate post.

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