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Sexual Misconduct

Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, April 3, 2015

For our first roundup of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we have a Presidential Proclamation for SAAM 2015, the results of a new survey on millennials’ beliefs about the prevalence of sexual assault, and Yale’s rollout of a new survey on sexual violence.

Presidential Proclamation

In recognition of National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month 2015, President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation, declaring “During National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, let us commit to being part of the solution and rededicate ourselves to creating a society where violence is not tolerated, survivors are supported, and all people are able to pursue their fullest measure of happiness without fear of abuse or assault.” The White House Task Force established in January 2014 helped bring campus sexual assault out of the shadows by issuing its First Report and creating the website www.NotAlone.gov to make Department of Education enforcement activities, as well as resources for students and schools easily accessible. In addition, the White House 1 is 2 Many report commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act. However, as this report points out, while VAWA changed intimate partner violence from a “private family matter” to a crime, much remains to be done to eliminate sexual violence.

Three-Quarters of Millennials Think Sexual Assault is Common on College Campuses

A new survey of millennials (here defined as people born between 1980 and 2000) conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, offers insight into that age group’s beliefs about the prevalence of sexual assault. 73% of millennials said they believed that sexual assault was somewhat or very common on college campuses. A further 60% of those surveyed said that colleges do not do enough to address the problem. The numbers are particularly notable when contrasted with the results of a similar question asked of college presidents in a recent Higher Education survey: just 32% agreed that sexual assault was prevalent on American campuses, and only 6% believed it was prevalent on their own campus. This piece from the Washington Post has some enlightening analysis on the significance of those very different results.

Yale Rolls Out Climate Survey

We’ve reported before on the Association of American Universities’ campus climate survey on sexual misconduct. Schools are now beginning to administer that survey, known as the Campus Sexual Climate Survey. Yale University launched the survey yesterday, making it available to its entire population of graduate and undergraduate students. When all is said and done the AAU survey will be administered by 27 schools and reach more than 800,000 students. The AAU and participating universities hope that the results, when released, will help introduce much needed data into the conversation about campus sexual assault.

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No Shades of Grey When It Comes to Consent
Posted by On Wednesday, February 18, 2015

50_shades_of_blue-01-0150 Shades of Grey,the film adaptation of the first novel in author E.L. James’s best-selling trilogy, was released last weekend to what was widely expected to be a record-breaking box office gross. The movie grossed an estimated $81.7 million dollars through Sunday, making it the second biggest February debut ever, according to the LA Times. While the book series alone has already proven itself to be something of a cultural phenomenon, the release of the film and proportional increase in publicity for the story told therein present an opportunity to start discussions about healthy relationships and consent on your campus.

In fact the film has already sparked controversy over the way it presents issues of consent. On the one hand, much of the plot revolves around a written contract consenting to certain BDSM sex acts the titular Christian Grey wants protagonist Anastasia Steele to sign. That explicit written consent could be taken as an example of the sort of clear, enthusiastic consent students must strive for before engaging in sex. On the other hand, the book often portrays Ana as being less-than-enthusiastic about some of the BDSM sex she has with Christian. The tension between those two plot points (nicely explored in this article from The Atlantic) could be a good jumping off point for a discussion about what’s needed to obtain true consent at each stage of intimacy.

Similarly the relationship between the two romantic leads, which has been described as abusive by critics of the films and books, could be a good introduction to a discussion about the elements of a healthy relationship and the warning signs of an abusive one. Or (SPOILER) the revelation of the abuse Christian Grey suffered as a minor could be an introduction to a conversation regarding the depiction of male victim/survivors in popular culture and the often-overlooked existence of sexual violence perpetrated against men. Even if students haven’t seen or read 50 Shades (full disclosure: this author has not), the story and the sex and relationship it depicts could be a topical entry point to important discussions about communication and mutual respect.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, November 21, 2014

Mandy Van Deven reports on the factors that keep schools silent on sexual assault and harassment, a new niche arises for attorneys defending young men accused of sexual assault, and the Association of American Universities plans to conduct its own campus climate survey.

Why Wouldn’t School Administrators Want to Talk About Sexual Assault?

Journalist Mandy Van Deven filed a report with Newsweek, as part of a crowdfunded reporting project to examine how schools respond to sexual assault and harassment against their students. In this report, Van Deven examines some of the factors that discourage schools from discussing sexual assault and harassment. She points to the unfortunate fact that teachers don’t have the tools to have meaningful conversations about sexual harassment. Furthermore, schools that do a better job reporting sexual misconduct may have higher reported rates of assaults and thus appear to have worse problems than other schools with less rigorous reporting and enforcement. She also points to the fact that no school has ever actually lost funding under Title IX. Van Deven’s work on this subject continues and we’ll be reporting on the project in future posts.

Attorneys for the Accused

As the pressure on schools to take substantive action to prevent sexual violence increases, so does the number of accused perpetrators who are arguing that their civil rights were violated in the process of investigations and disciplinary hearings. The result is a rapidly growing legal specialty: Lawyers who represent young men disciplined for sexual misconduct. These lawyers claim that basic due process rights such as the right to cross-examine witnesses and present a defense are being lost in the rush to do something about campus sexual assault. In many cases, they are using laws like Title IX on behalf of accused perpetrators, claiming that their clients are being discriminated against because they are male. Critics have pointed out that turning a conduct hearing into an adversarial proceeding with lawyers representing students accused of sexual misconduct can further confuse the process, getting schools into even more trouble with Title IX. Columbia University has addressed this problem by offering free legal help to both parties, but the university’s special adviser on sexual assault prevention and response says, while “lawyers can help protect the rights of accused students . . . they come at a potential cost” to what is supposed to be an educational process.

The Association of American Universities Climate Survey

The Association of American Universities plans to develop and conduct an anonymous campus climate survey regarding sexual misconduct for those AAU members that elect to join the survey for about $85,000 per school. The survey will be conducted in April of 2015 and aggregated results will be published the following fall. According to the AAU president, Hunter Rawlings, part of the goal behind the project is to preempt a Congressional mandate “that every campus conduct a government-developed survey in the near future, which will likely be a one-size-fits all survey that does not reliably assess the campus culture on this issue.” Although Sen. McCaskill, author of a bill that would require surveys administered by the Department of Education for all institutions of higher education, has praised the survey, critics suggest that a survey whose results will be published in aggregate only is a convenient out for institutions that might otherwise have to provide campus-level data,which would allow students and parents to compare results between schools.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, November 14, 2014

Collective punishment for fraternities, the latest video by “It’s On Us,” and a timeline of sexual assault news from the last year.

Is Collective Punishment for Fraternities an Effective Prevention Technique?

In the wake of sexual assaults, fatal accidents, and other tragedies associated with fraternity parties, more and more colleges are turning to what some have deemed collective punishment: restricting or eliminating social events for all Greek organizations on campus, not just those associated with prior incidents. At Johns Hopkins all fraternity parties are banned until the end of the current semester, following a reported rape at Sigma Alpha Epsilon, despite the fact that neither the assailants nor the victim were associated with the fraternity. At Emory University all Greek social activities have been suspended following an assault at a fraternity house, and at MIT fraternity gatherings cannot exceed 49 people—the result of an accident in which a woman fell out of a fraternity window. Some commentators applaud such steps as common sense preventative measures while others have criticized such steps as unfair to fraternities and sororities that may be doing everything right and still be punished for a different group’s misdeeds or carelessness.

“It’s On Us” Promotes Bystander Intervention

Check out the latest spot from the White House’s “It’s On Us” anti-sexual assault campaign, which doubles-down on the theme of bystander intervention with a dramatization of a college-aged young man preventing sexual assault at a party. The video, narrated by Mad Men actor Jon Hamm, reflects current research suggesting bystander intervention may be a particularly promising prevention strategy. Other efforts will include partnerships with professional sports leagues, efforts to change the tone of victim-blaming conversations on the internet, and prizes for students who submit innovative strategies for bystander intervention.

A Timeline of Campus Sexual Assault

The past year has seen numerous developments in the fight against sexual assault on college campuses, including a White House campaign, new laws, and the latest count of 85 OCR investigations. This interactive infographic from Al-Jazeera America provides a timeline of the most relevant stories from the past year, serving as both useful summary and convenient resource.

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Free Workshop on Consent
Posted by On Thursday, August 14, 2014

We’re excited to release today a consent workshop developed by our friends at the University of San Francisco’s Division of Student Life.

The workshop would be a helpful addition to any orientation program or a stand-alone refresher course for later in the year. It covers the definition of consent and gives some important statistics about sexual assault and intimacy in the campus community. It also gives students the opportunity to practice communication skills related to asking, giving, and denying consent.

Here are the downloads:

Although this workshop was developed for women, it can easily be adapted for students of any gender. In fact, we hope schools will tailor these resources to fit their unique needs and we encourage you to make refinements and improvements as you see fit. We do ask, however, that you share any changes you make to a workshop and make them freely available to the whole student conduct community (that’s why we use a creative commons license).

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2 Minutes Will Change How Your Students Think About Consent
Posted by On Tuesday, July 22, 2014

One of the most important things you can do to change the culture on your campus is to get students talking about consent. Today, we’re excited to publish a video that can do just that, from our award-winning online program Think About It:

Teaching students about consent is an important piece of any sexual violence prevention program.  Indeed, consent was at the center of the White House’s recent PSA announcement — “If she doesn’t consent – or can’t consent – it’s a crime” — and in California, the state legislature is debating proposed legislation that would require colleges to adopt a policy that defines consent to sexual activity as an affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, July 18, 2014

As anyone reading this blog or following news coverage of campus sexual violence knows all too well, combating college sexual assault is never simple, straightforward, or easy. This week we have four more stories that highlight that fact.

Why Victims and Accused Students Both Think the Campus Judicial System is Inadequate

One thing the accused and accuser seem to agree on is that their campus judicial system is inadequate because it perpetuates, depending on your perspective, either “slut-shaming rape culture” or the “war on men” and their due process.  Many campus administrators find themselves in a catch-22 situation when they use disciplinary proceedings to decide a “he-said-she-said” campus case of sexual assault. However, Title IX leaves administrators little choice but to err on the side of taking steps to protect campus safety even if the accused would not be found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a court of law.

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Small Acts of Kindness: Micro-Affirmations and Campus Climate
Posted by On Wednesday, July 16, 2014

While studying how to improve workplace conditions for under-represented groups, MIT ombudsman Mary Rowe discovered the pernicious effect on morale and performance of small acts of disrespect, which “seemed to corrode some professional relationships like bits of sand and ice.” She called these events, “micro-inequities.” They often arose around issues related to sex, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, gender expression, and national origin — “wherever people are perceived to be ‘different’.”

Rowe’s concept of “micro-inequities” is akin to “micro-aggressions,” an idea that has gained considerable coverage in the media recently (for instance, here, here, here, here, and here).  Schools trying to create safe and supportive campus environments for their students should take this idea seriously and consider ways to address these small poisonous acts.

Awareness is one possible approach. Professor Derald W. Sue, one of the foremost researchers on micro-aggressions, speaks about the importance of encouraging students to reflect critically on their own worldviews and to “become increasingly aware of the worldviews of people who differ from them.” Including discussion of micro-aggressions in bystander training could also help discourage these behaviors. Not only would this increase awareness about the issue, but it would help students gain the confidence and skills to speak up when they or a friend was in some way disparaged. Indeed, Rowe writes that “it it is not just inappropriate remarks by individuals that sting, but the silence of a wide array of bystanders.”

Micro-Affirmations and Bystander Training

Rowe observed, however, that micro-inequities were often committed unconsciously or automatically, making it hard for individuals to catch and correct their problem behaviors, and making awareness a more elusive educational goal.

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Golden State Auditor Issues Report
Posted by On Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Golden State Auditor Issues Report

A Checklist for Title IX Employee Training
Posted by On Thursday, May 15, 2014
A Checklist for Title IX Employee Training