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1 in 5 States Consider Arming College Students
Posted by On Wednesday, February 25, 2015

There are very few college campuses where students can carry firearms, either due to state law or university policies. For some years certain firearms advocates have been trying to overturn such prohibitions with state laws that would allow the concealed carry of firearms on college and university campuses. Right now campus-carry bills are being considered in ten states: Florida, Indiana, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming.

After years of trying to overturn prohibitions on concealed carry of firearms on college and university campuses, pro-gun advocates are now pointing to the alarming rate of sexual assault on college campuses as evidence of the need for the right to carry a gun on campus. According to the sponsor of one such bill, Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.”

Such arguments beg the question: could arming students actually be an effective deterrent to sexual violence? In this post we will consider what we know about the circumstances of most campus sexual assaults, and whether or not that knowledge suggests that these crimes could have been prevented by the presence of a firearm.

Most Sexual Assault Victim/Survivors Know Their Assailant

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics December 2014 report on rape and sexual assault, approximately 80% of college women who suffer rape or sexual assault know their assailant. Any effort to deter sexual assault by arming students has to factor in that the vast majority of assault cases could only be prevented by a gun if the victim were willing to shoot or threaten to shoot a friend, acquaintance, or current or former intimate partner.

It’s easy to imagine how carrying a concealed gun could protect a woman who was accosted by a stranger when walking home from campus late at night. However, as suggested by the statistic cited above, the large majority of campus sexual assaults do not involve strangers jumping out of bushes and attacking women walking alone at night.

According to national president of anti-sexual violence group One in Four, John D. Foubert, “If you have a rape situation, usually it starts with some sort of consensual behavior, and by the time it switches to nonconsensual it would be nearly impossible to run for a gun.” The utility of campus-carry bills as sexual assault prevention measures should be evaluated in the context in which most sexual assaults actually occur.

Many Assaults Occur in Situations Which Involve Alcohol

According to the same BJS report cited above, 47% of college women who experienced rape reported that their assailant was under the influence of drugs and alcohol. A further 28% weren’t sure whether their assailant was intoxicated or not. Just 25% said that their assailant was sober. These statistics should hardly come as a surprise, given the well-documented connection between binge drinking and college campuses. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

  • 40.1% of college students reported binge drinking in the past month
  • 60.3% of college students reported drinking alcohol in the past month
  • each year 97,000 students between ages 18 and 24 suffer alcohol-related sexual assault or rape
  • each year 696,000 students between ages 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking

In addition, numerous studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between alcohol abuse and suicide and homicide attempts.

This data would seem to support the sentiments of a sophomore at Stetson University who said, “I think it’s a terrible idea. From what I’ve seen, sexual assault is often linked to situations where people are drinking, so it’s not a good idea to have concealed weapons around that.”

Campus-Carry Bills Would Arm Assailants as well as Victim/Survivors

It is important to consider that there is no way for a campus-carry bill to distinguish a potential sexual assault victim from a would-be perpetrator. Lawmakers who wish to protect potential victims of sexual assault must weigh the perceived benefit of arming potential victims against the harm of arming their would-be attackers.

In conclusion, before arming college students in an attempt to prevent campus sexual violence, we would do well to consider the reality of the circumstances of campus sexual assaults and do more research on what prevention strategies do and do not work.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, February 20, 2015

The federal government offers funding for research on campus responses to sexual assaults and an open letter against proposed state laws that would legislate higher education responses to sexual violence.

$1.5 Million for Research on Sexual Assault Responses

We’ve featured numerous articles in this space on the need for more information about campus sexual assault and what does and doesn’t work when trying to prevent it. Apparently the United States Department of Justice agrees, because the National Institute of Justice has issued a call for proposals for studies that will investigate different methods of responding to sexual assault on college campuses. They are offering $1.5 million in funding for research into how schools handle campus sexual assault cases. With numerous schools trying a wide variety of methods to address the issue, such additional data is sorely needed.

Educators Call on Legislators to Vote “No” on Sexual Assault Bills

This week numerous student affairs associations and victim’s advocates groups sent an open letter to all “Elected Leaders of the 50 United States,” urging them to vote down proposed state legislation that would require school officials to refer all reports of sexual violence to law enforcement, as well as bills providing enhanced legal rights to the accused, but not to victim/survivors, such as legal representation at conduct hearings, judicial review of decisions made in institutional proceedings, and recovery of money damages if the court rules in favor of the accused student.  This approach, it is argued, “ignores the balance set by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the scope of accused students’ due process rights.” The letter also points out that mandatory reporting laws for sexual assault complaints conflict with federal laws that require schools to give victims the option not to report their sexual assault to local police. They also argue that such requirements could have a chilling effect on reports of sexual assault to school officials by victim/survivors who don’t want the police involved. The letter is signed by higher education professional organizations, state coalitions working to combat sexual violence, and national women’s and victims’ rights organizations, including NASPA, Know Your IX, and the Victim Rights Law Center.

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