Month: October 2014

Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, October 31, 2014

Activists pick up mattresses across the country, schools bring in professional investigators, and a statistical analysis of the increase in reported sexual assaults.

Emma Sulkowicz Has Inspired a Mattress-Carrying Movement

If you follow news about sexual assault on college campuses you’ve almost certainly heard of Emma Sulkowicz, a sexual assault victim/survivor who is carrying her mattress everywhere she goes on the Columbia campus until her assailant is removed from the university, or leaves of his own volition. As her story has gained more and more attention, Sulkowicz has received help carrying her mattress from supporters on the Columbia campus. Now, activists and supporters around the country are helping Emma bear her burden, albeit metaphorically, by carrying mattresses on campus in a #carrythatweight Day of Action meant to raise awareness about sexual assault and show support for victim/survivors of sexual violence. Search the hashtag to see images of activists across the country inspired by Sulkowicz’s senior thesis.

Schools Bring in Outside Investigators to Handle Sexual Assault Cases

Schools having trouble training faculty and administrators to act as criminal investigators are increasingly turning to outside help to resolve on-campus sexual assault cases, often in the form of actual or former criminal investigators. This NPR piece profiles one such investigator, former prosecutor Djuna Perkins, who has helped schools such as Harvard, Emerson, and Amherst investigate sexual assaults. Perkins discusses the difficulties and complications posed by sexual assault cases, and the necessity of looking past facts that less experienced investigators might automatically assume to be indicative of consent. The piece also takes a look at why schools must conduct investigations, as opposed to simply passing such cases on to local law enforcement, and the unique difficulties that can be created by simultaneous law enforcement and university investigations.

A Statistical Analysis of the Increase in Sexual Assault Reporting

Another story that anyone who follows these issues will have seen is the increase in reported sexual assaults in this year’s Clery Annual Security Reports. We’ve written in the past that, perhaps counter-intuitively, the increase in reported sexual assaults is most likely a positive development in the fight against campus sexual violence. This piece from the Washington Post goes deeper into that idea, taking a look at possible explanations for some of the largest increases reported by schools across the country. They point out, for example, that one of the largest increases in reported sexual assaults occurred at Gallaudent University, a school for the deaf and blind whose students may not be able to report to anyone other than the sign language speaking staff and faculty, precluding the possibility that reports would go to law enforcement. Similarly, students at Reed College, another school with a notable increase in reported violence, have demanded that Reed improve their response to sexual violence on campus. The piece speculates that improved procedures are responsible for a bump in the percentage of assaults reported, as opposed to an increase in the number of actual assaults. It’s all yet more evidence that more reporting is a positive development.

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Free Workshops for Employees on Discrimination and Harassment
Posted by On Thursday, October 30, 2014

silhouette of woman looking at flowersAlthough recent focus has been on training students, it is critical that colleges and universities also train faculty and staff on issues related to sexual harassment and discrimination. After all, faculty and staff play an important role in creating a supportive campus where everyone feels safe and respected. These short workshops provide you with two valuable resources to educate faculty and staff. The first is directed to all staff while the second addresses the role and responsibilities of supervisors. The workshops were developed by Kent Mannis, our Senior Editor.

The Anti-Harassment interactive lecture and discussion guide will reinforce your schools’ commitment to preventing workplace sexual harassment. By examining a purported “office romance” scenario, employees will review the legal standards for a “hostile work environment,” the school’s restrictions (if any) on personal relationships, and your anti-harassment reporting policy and procedures. This workshop is appropriate for all staff.

The Supervisors’ Role in Preventing Harassment interactive lecture and discussion guide will reinforce your school’s policy against harassment and discrimination, and help supervisors understand their responsibility to avoid, prevent, and respond to harassment and discrimination. By reviewing real-world scenarios, supervisors will understand the importance of taking prompt action to prevent misconduct, what to do if trouble occurs, and the consequences of inaction.

To download the workshops visit our Talk About It Community.

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California Mandates Campus Sexual Assault Reporting to Police
Posted by On Monday, October 27, 2014

Nearly a year ago, a California bill proposing to mandate campuses to report sexual assault and other crimes to the police garnered national attention. Now, that bill (designated AB 1433) has become law. AB 1433 requires most colleges, as a condition of receiving state Cal Grant funds, to immediately – or as soon as practically possible – report specified crimes against students to local law enforcement agencies without disclosing the student’s identity (unless the student consents). The reporting law takes effect immediately. However, schools have until July 1, 2015 to additionally adopt and implement policies and procedures to ensure that crimes are reported to local law enforcement.

What has changed

On September 29, 2014, AB 1433 became law, requiring California colleges and universities to immediately (or as soon as practically possible) alert the campus police or local law enforcement when a student or employee reports a violent crime:

  • willful homicide, forcible rape, robbery, or aggravated assault (“Part 1 violent crimes”), as defined in the Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • sexual assault (e.g., rape or rape with an object, forced sodomy or oral copulation, sexual battery, or the threat of any of these)
  • any hate crime committed because of another person’s disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or association with a person or group with any of these characteristics

This new law makes reporting a condition of receiving Cal Grants that help qualifying students pay for college. And, no later than July 1, 2015, institutions of higher learning must “adopt and implement written policies and procedures to ensure” that crimes are immediately reported to law enforcement.

To protect victim’s privacy, the law requires that no identifying information about the alleged victim can be included in the report unless the victim consents. According to Newsweek, this provision was added after victims’ advocates objected that the initial draft of the bill, by making reporting mandatory without the alleged victim’s consent, would pressure sexual assault survivors to work with the police against their wishes.

Sexual assault survivor and UC Berkeley student Sofie Karasek, whom AB 1433 author Assemblyman Mike Gatto consulted in drafting the bill, put it this way:

“I figured it would be much easier and less stressful to report to the school as opposed to trying to go to trial, especially since I was an out-of-state freshman . . . I wasn’t interested in going through a long, ardorous [sic] process with police, who I thought probably wouldn’t believe what I was saying and wouldn’t put their full effort into my case.”

Karasek, according to Newsweek, joined other UC Berkeley students in a 2013 federal lawsuit against the University for failing to provide a timely and proper response to sexual assault allegations. AB 1433 was inspired by federal complaints against Occidental college involving more than 50 student and faculty members for violating federal law, by allegedly failing to disclose assault claims and discouraging women from reporting.

Agreements with police

In California, many colleges have established campus police forces with the primary authority for providing police, security, or investigative services on their campuses. Existing law requires written agreements with the city or county law enforcement agency responsible for policing the community where the campus is located.

AB 1433 does not change this, but it does require that local police be kept “in the loop” as soon as campus police receive crime reports. Reporting directly to the police will increase transparency and public accountability, according to Gatto as cited in the Assembly Floor Analysis of AB 1433:

“The bill’s author [Gatto] indicates that law enforcement agencies have expressed concern that they are not completely aware of crime trends in their jurisdictions because some university agreements do not require campus security to pass information along to local law enforcement . . . The author believes this bill is necessary to ensure that local law enforcement agencies are aware of crime trends, by ensuring campuses pass along reports.”

Gatto also “contends this bill could result in a closer working relationship between campuses and local police and sheriffs’ departments, which will result in more thorough investigations, better outcomes for victims, and safer communities.”

Note: Similar bills are pending in New Jersey. However, lawmakers and advocates for greater victim privacy oppose the proposed laws as written. We will keep you posted on further developments.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, October 24, 2014

Here’s the latest news in sexual violence prevention efforts.

What Happens to Perpetrators Who Transfer?

Plenty has been made of American colleges and universities’ failure to investigate and hold responsible perpetrators of sexual assault. This Huffington Post piece asks a different question. What’s to stop a perpetrator who is being investigated, or has been held responsible for their actions, from transferring to a different institution, where they will have the opportunity to perpetrate the same crimes all over again? The answer, unfortunately, appears to be nothing. Very few schools forward information about completed or ongoing disciplinary investigations involving students transferring to other institutions, and few if any schools request such information when accepting transfers. The piece notes a number of cases in which students investigated or even expelled for sexual violence, sometimes at multiple schools, were accepted at other institutions where they went on to continue to commit more assaults. While a school cannot prevent a student from withdrawing, or enforce sanctions after they have transferred, activists in the article suggest that, in light of research showing that many perpetrators of sexual assault are serial predators, some sort of system should be implemented to standardize what information about students’ disciplinary records is shared when they transfer from one institution to another.

Could a New Online Tool Increase Reporting?

That’s what the would-be creators of a new online-reporting tool called Callisto believe. The tool, designed by nonprofit company Sexual Health Innovations with input from anti-sexual violence groups, including Know Your IX, Faculty Against Rape, and End Rape on Campus, would allow victim/survivors to report their assaults online. They could then choose to submit the report or not submit, in which case it would be saved it as a time-stamped report. It would also show victim/survivors whether the accused perpetrator had been implicated in other incidents. Sexual Health Innovation’s Founder and Executive Director, Jessica Ladd, says that interviews that went into the tool’s development suggest it could triple reporting. Callisto, which has not yet been fully developed, is currently fundraising on crowdfunding-platform Crowdrise, where it has blown past an initial $10,000 goal. The folks behind Callisto plan to continue fundraising, estimating that development will ultimately cost around $200,000. If you want to donate or learn more, follow the link above.

Federal Sexual Violence Investigations Up 50%

On the topic of increased reporting, the number of federal investigations of schools suspected of mishandling sexual assault cases has increased by 50% since the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights first began releasing the list of schools being investigated. The list of schools, which includes UC Berkeley, the University of Virginia, and Princeton University, has increased from 59 schools to 89 since May. According to Assistant Education Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon , “The list is growing partly because we’ve told people we will be there for them. And there’s value in coming to us.” While the growth in the number of federal investigations may represent a positive development in that respect, it also represents a challenge, given the lengthy process of investigating a school’s sexual assault response and determining what steps should be taken to correct any shortcomings. Investigations have been known to take as long as four years from start to finish.

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How Can I Help? Responding to Survivors
Posted by On Wednesday, October 22, 2014

“How can I help you?”

“I’m hungry.”

“I’ll order you a sandwich.”

The two sat in silence until a meatball sandwich arrived. Only after eating a few bites, did the survivor feel comfortable recounting the assault to the Title IX coordinator.

This anecdote along with others like it provided the substance of a workshop on how to respond and support survivors of sexual assault. The discussion was facilitated by Dr. Van Brunt of the NCHERM organization as part of ATIXA’s annual conference.

Dr. Van Brunt guided the group through a series of best practices for first responders that focused on providing survivor/victims the best support. But in many ways, the most valuable conversations arose when Dr. Van Brunt opened the floor to the audience to share their experiences and ideas. The practitioners’ poignant stories and reflections vividly showed the effort and care that they brought to their work. They also illustrated the complexities and challenges of their jobs.

A lot of the discussion focused on how to help faculty and other campus staff effectively and sensitively respond to survivors’ disclosures of sexual assault. Several administrators in the meeting mentioned preparing handouts of available resources and reporting options. That way, they explained, a first responder could simply be present to listen and support the survivor/victim without worrying about informing them about every available resource. Afterwards, the faculty member could hand the survivor the list of resources, and feel confident that the survivor was aware of what was available on campus. Indeed, not only is this a best practice but providing written information to someone who reports sexual misconduct is required under the Campus SaVE Act.

Another particularly ingenious suggestion was a small perforated card that fit in a faculty member’s wallet, pocket, or purse. When unfolded, half the card provided the faculty member with specific language and instructions on supporting a survivor while the other half listed resources for survivors. If a student disclosed an assault to a faculty member or other staff, they could unfold the card, use the language on one side, and then detach the resources to give to the survivor.
The participants also discussed how responsible employees (who have a duty to report) can inform the survivors of their reporting responsibility without compromising the survivor’s autonomy. One interesting suggestion was to frame the reporting in terms of supporting the survivor:

“I want to make sure that you have all the support you need, so I’m going to let the Title IX coordinator know. We can approach her together, or if, you like, I can approach her for you.”

This framing gives the survivor options and also appropriately couches the issue in terms of support and not institutional responsibilities, which might alienate the survivor by making them feel as if their well-being is less important that the institution’s compliance concerns. Nonetheless, as the participants admitted, there is no easy solution to this particular dilemma.

The discussion ended with tips for self-care. As had been echoed throughout the conference, advocates and administrators who work closely on these issues may experience vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue. In order to make sure front-line workers can continue to support survivors and victims, it is important that these workers are mindful of their own well being and get the support they need too.

For more information on these issues, go to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center where they have links to workshops on “First Responders: Responding to Sexual Assault Disclosures” and “Sexual Assault Advocate/Counselor Training” among others. Or check out our earlier post on online resources about the effects of trauma on sexual assault survivor/victims.

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Final SaVE Act Regulations Published
Posted by On Monday, October 20, 2014

The Department of Education has published the final regulations for the 2013 Violence Against Women Re-authorization Amendments to the Clery Act…commonly referred to as the Campus SaVE Act.

Read the final regulations here.

We will be publishing our discussion of the regulations in the coming weeks.


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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, October 17, 2014

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In recognition of the occasion, as well as a very serious and important issue on college campuses, we have three stories for you about domestic and dating violence and what can be done to prevent it.

Sexual Assault Activists Turning Their Attention to Dating Violence

After successfully starting a national conversation about sexual assault on college campuses, and beginning to create actual change around the issue, feminist activists are turning their attention to another very important topic: domestic and dating violence amongst college students. The 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act added a provision to the Clery Act requiring schools to disclose the number of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking incidents reported on campus. Now, student activists are documenting institutions that have failed to comply with new requirements. The issue of relationship violence on college campuses is a particularly pressing one, given research suggesting that college-aged women are the most likely to be victim/survivors of dating and domestic violence. Hopefully, some of the same tactics that have been shown to help prevent sexual assaults, including bystander intervention and training, will help turn the tide against domestic and dating violence as well.

What Can Employers Do for Victim/Survivors of Domestic Violence?

Of course, domestic violence is a threat not just to college-aged women but to people of all ages. That ugly fact has an equally ugly corollary: that domestic violence can often spill over into the workplace. This piece, from Fast Company, recognizes that fact, and suggests a few simple measures that employers can take to protect their employees from potentially dangerous intimate partners. Author Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., a Manhattan District Attorney, notes the importance of recognizing the signs that an employee is being abused and offering victim/survivors support in the workplace. Specifically, he points out that, “Companies should have proactive mechanisms in place to support victims, provide them with services, and keep them safe.” He recommends simple but important steps such as tailoring a victim/survivor’s schedule and work location to their needs, making security aware of the situation and the identity of the abuser, and having an emergency contact in the event the victim/survivor cannot be reached.

Can Training Prevent Domestic Violence?

The NFL has caught a fair amount of well-deserved flak this season for its accommodating stance towards players widely known to be guilty of domestic abuse. There are, of course, any number of things the NFL could and should have done better. One particularly interesting suggestion comes from violence prevention educator Jackson Katz, who has worked with NFL players in the past. Katz is part of the Mentors in Violence Program, which trains young men not to perpetrate sexual and domestic violence. He believes that a more consistent anti-domestic violence training program in the NFL could help change a culture that tacitly accepts violence against women. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has promised to implement just such a program for all players in the wake of this year’s scandals. It may well be that training in other settings—including academic ones—could be a much needed step to combat domestic violence in society beyond the football field.

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Looking Back on ATIXA
Posted by On

We just got back from ATIXA, where we spent three days attending sessions, meeting educators and advocates, and learning a lot. It was a profoundly humbling experience as we got to know many of the remarkable people working hard to end campus sexual violence.

In the conference’s first session, activist and health educator LB Klein set the tone for the conference. She pointed out that the media’s narratives of campus sexual assault have framed the issue as an epidemic. The danger of this angle, she argued, is that it urges us to pursue quick fixes. But, of course, sexual violence on college campuses is not a new issue.

For example, in the National Institute of Justice’s 2000 study The Sexual Victimization of College Women, researchers estimated that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 women experienced attempted or completed rape while in college. In 2007, NIJ researchers found similar numbers. In fact, these numbers remain largely unchanged from what Mary Koss found in her groundbreaking studies in the 80s.

In order to gain a clearer perspective on the issue, Klein encouraged us to reframe the problem as one “endemic” to college campuses. Instead of quick fixes, she stressed, this reframing underscores the need for deep and thoughtful solutions that can be sustained over time and, of course, the need for significant investment in time and resources.

Klein’s message was echoed in many of the presentations. Indeed, another recurring theme of the conference was the importance of self-care for educators and advocates. Several speakers pointed to high turnover due to burnout and “compassion fatigue.”

However, if the problem has been persistent, there are signs that national attention is turning to this issue and others like it. Howard Kallem, a former attorney for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), cited statistics that suggest the OCR’s caseload is increasing. According to Kallem, in 2003 the OCR only closed 5141 cases. In 2014 that number stands at 9916. Hopefully these changes indicate that the issue is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Next week, we’ll explore some of the other issues and ideas that came up during the conference.


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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Wednesday, October 15, 2014

For this week’s roundup we have three developments in higher education law you should be following.

Clery Reports Reveal Dramatic Increase in Reported Sexual Assaults

Last week schools across the country released their Clery Annual Security Reports, which include statistics on the number of reported sexual assaults occurring on or near campus. This year’s batch of Security Reports reveals a dramatic increase in the number of reported sexual assaults at America’s top 25 colleges and universities. Perhaps counterintuitively, the increase in reported assaults is good news for activists and others trying to combat the epidemic of sexual violence on American campuses.  Historically, sexual assaults have been under reported  meaning that many victims did not receive the help they needed to recover. Activists believe that the increased number of assaults being reported is a positive result of the increased awareness around the issue in the last several years. Victim/survivors of sexual assault are more likely to report the crime knowing that their experience is not unique, that there are those who care enough to support and help them, and that by reporting their assault they may help remove the threat of a serial offender from their community.

Cuomo Follows California’s Lead in New SUNY Sexual Assault Policies

Last week we reported on California’s new consent law, the so-called “yes means yes” bill that requires a standard of affirmative consent at schools across the state. Now, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is following the Golden State’s lead by implementing a similar policy at all 64 State University of New York campuses. Other policy changes include statewide training programs for administrators, students, and parents, and immunity for students who report assaults that occurred when they were violating campus rules and laws (such as bans on underage drinking). In addition, SUNY campuses are required to distribute a Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, informing victim/survivors of their right to report assaults to the police or campus security. These new sexual assault policies represent not only a change in how SUNY handles sexual violence, but also the first time that uniform sexual assault policies apply across all 64 campuses. When announcing the change Cuomo noted that sexual assault is a national problem, saying, “I would suggest it should be SUNY’s problem to solve and SUNY’s place to lead.”

New California Law Protects Pregnant Graduate Students

In addition to the aforementioned affirmative consent bill, California has passed another law to remove obstacles for women in higher education. The bill was inspired by research conducted by Mary Ann Mason and co-authors Nicholas H. Wolfinger and Marc Goulden. Their research demonstrated that pregnancy and child-rearing represented major professional setbacks to women in academia. For instance, according to the research, “married mothers who earn Ph.D.’s are 28 percent less likely to obtain a tenure-track job than are married men with children who earn Ph.D.’s.” Anecdotal evidence abounds that the discrepancy is due to discrimination, with stories of advisors demanding that female graduate students return to research positions shortly after giving birth, or refusing to give letters of recommendation to women who took too long to return after having a baby. Protections for pregnant women created by the Family Medical Leave Act, Title VII, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act usually do not  apply to graduate students, who are rarely classified as full-time employees, and Title IX protections are all-too-often ignored. The new law will fill this unfortunate gap, guaranteeing pregnant students at least a year of leave and non-birth parents at least one month, as well as requiring grad schools to create written policies “on pregnancy discrimination and procedures for addressing pregnancy discrimination complaints under Title IX or this section.”

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Ten Free Resources on Bystander Intervention
Posted by On Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bystander Intervention has received a lot of attention from educators and advocates in the last few years. The most recent guidance from the Department of Education about Title IX recommends that schools provide training to students on “strategies and skills for bystanders to intervene to prevent possible sexual violence.” The White House’s first report on campus sexual violence pointed to bystander intervention as a “promising prevention strategy” that schools should be implementing on their campuses.

Fortunately, there are already numerous resources available to schools to begin developing their own bystander training. Alongside the White House’s report, the CDC released a document outlining what’s involved in building a bystander program. It provides a great starting point. Below are some more resources you can use to educate trainers about how to teach bystander intervention as well as videos and other materials you can use in workshops with students.

Dr. Alan Berkowitz — Bystander Intervention

This series of short videos by renowned consultant on social justice issues Alan Berkowitz provides a good resource for staff and faculty who are preparing bystander workshops or materials. Berkowitz tells stories of intervention and the principles they illustrate.

Dr. Mary C. Gentile — Giving Voice to Your Values

Mary Gentile teaches ethical decision-making and values-driven leadership for business schools. Although these topics might seem a far cry from sexual violence, they’re not. Her book and workshops focus on teaching students how to speak up and step in when they see something wrong. At the center of her approach is the idea that most ethics education focuses too much on recognizing ethical dilemmas and debating the nuances of them as opposed to responding to ethical dilemmas. Her book and website are full of resources that could be adapted to bystander training for students, staff, and faculty around issues of sexual violence.

Who Are You — Bystander Intervention Video

This video went viral last year. From a New Zealand multi-media campaign aimed at stopping sexual violence, it illustrates all the different people who could have intervened in one evening to stop a sexual assault. The video could fit well into workshops about sexual violence, consent, and, of course, bystander intervention.

Prevent Connect Wiki

This website includes a 10 minute video on “Engaging Bystanders in Violence Against Women Prevention,” which can be a nice introduction for staff or administrators unfamiliar with the approach. The website also includes a good list of videos you can use to discuss bystander intervention strategies, including several clips from the ABC show “What Would You Do?” that involve bystander action around sexual harassment and potential sexual violence.

White House — It’s On Us Campaign

As part of its effort to curb sexual violence, the White House has started an awareness campaign to promote intervening behaviors. The website includes some good resources, including videos.

NSVRC — Bystander Intervention Resources

“This online resource collection offers advocates and preventionists information and resources on bystander intervention. It includes resources to use with community members, as well as information and research on the effectiveness of bystander intervention.”

MIT — Active Bystanders

A nice site with some advice on effective intervention strategies as well as a few interactive scenarios students or facilitators could use to practice bystander skills.

Step Up!

A comprehensive bystander intervention program, Step Up offers a lot of great free resources to help staff develop bystander programs on their campuses. It offers great guides on developing effective bystander scripts. One of the great things about Step Up is that they broaden intervention beyond sexual violence to include issues like drinking, anger, and academic honesty. It is another valuable resource for students and educators. In particular, check out their library of videos that you can use to facilitate discussions about how to intervene and barriers to intervention.

Dr. David Lisak

David Lisak’s homepage offers some valuable resources on understanding predators and the predatory nature of sexual violence.

Samantha Stendal and Aaron Blanton – “A Needed Response”

Created during the Steubenville rape trial by two University of Oregon students, this short, simple video conveys a powerful message about treating women with respect. The video was honored with a Peabody Award, the first viral video to receive that accolade.

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