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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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5 Stories About Compliance That You Need to Know this Fall
Posted by On Thursday, August 28, 2014

We know you’re busy preparing your campus for the Fall semester or welcoming students to campus. Over the next few months, however, there are some important developments you should be following. Below is a handy overview.

The Campus SaVE Act Regulations

Yes, the Campus SaVE Act is already law, but the regulations are still being finalized and won’t be released until November.

Signed into law in March of 2013, the Campus SaVE Act amends the Clery Act. It includes three major provisions: it expands the crimes that schools must report in their Annual Security Report; it establishes what should be included in the school’s policies and procedures to address campus sexual assault; and, finally, it mandates extensive “primary prevention and awareness programs” — which include training for students and staff — regarding recovery, reporting, and preventing sexual misconduct and related offenses.

After a process of negotiated rulemaking, the Department of Education published the draft regulations for the SaVE Act in the Federal Register this June, collected public comments on the proposed regulations this summer, and will publish the final regulations by November 1st. The regulations will be effective by July 1, 2015. Though the final regulations have not been published, schools need to make a good faith effort to comply with the SaVE Act by October 1st this year.

Check out some of our past coverage of the SaVE Act.

The Campus Safety and Accountability Act (CASA)

Of the bills recently introduced into the Senate or House of Representatives, CASA has received the lion’s share of the attention. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill are the most visible sponsors of the bill, but CASA enjoys strong bi-partisan support and includes prominent Republican co-sponsors such as Marco Rubio. The bill was developed by McCaskill and Gillibrand through a series of roundtables with victims, survivors, experts, advocates, and administrators. The senators also conducted a national survey of colleges and universities about how they responded to sexual misconduct on their campuses. Based on the findings of the survey and roundtables, the bill aims to curb campus sexual violence “by protecting and empowering students, and strengthening accountability and transparency for institutions.”

Specifically, the bill introduces fines for non-compliant institutions of up to 1% of their operating budgets and increases penalties for Clery Act violations from $35,000 to as much as $150,000 per violation. In terms of transparency, CASA would establish a government administered annual campus climate survey as well as a website run by the Department of Education with contact information for all Title IX coordinators and information on the Department of Education’s investigations, findings, and resolution agreements related to Title IX. Finally, the bill increases support and resources for victims and survivors through provisions detailing extensive training for staff, the creation of a new confidential advisor position at all higher-education institutions, and a required amnesty policy for students who reveal conduct violations (such as underage drinking) when reporting in good faith an incident of sexual violence.

For our past coverage, check out this list of our stories about CASA.

The Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act (SOS Campus Act)

Introduced in the Senate by Barbara Boxer, and in the House by Susan Davis, the SOS Campus Act is fairly straightforward; it would require schools to “designate an independent advocate for campus sexual assault and prevention.” The Advocate would help victims and survivors connect with support resources like counseling or legal services and guide them through the reporting and adjudication processes. The bill emphasizes the independence of this new position, explaining that “the Advocate shall represent the interests of the student victim even when in conflict with the interests of the institution.”

Boxer recently wrote a letter to Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, asking her to voluntarily adopt the provisions in the bill: “I am working hard to pass the SOS Campus Act in Congress, but our students cannot afford to wait another minute for that to happen.”

Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency on Campus Sexual Violence Act (HALT Act)

Introduced by Representatives Jackie Speier and Pat Meehan, the HALT Act — like CASA — would improve transparency around campus sexual assault and increase the sanctions for schools violating student’s Title IX civil rights.

The HALT Act would require public disclosure of resolution agreements and program reviews from Title IX investigations and create mandatory climate surveys (the first of which would have to be administered no later than April 1st, 2015). It would also create a Campus Sexual Violence Task Force that would, among other things, publish an annual report on these issues.

With the praise of some and the condemnation of others, the bill would also create much stronger sanctions for non-compliant schools. It gives the Office of Civil Rights the ability to levy fines, “the amount of which shall be determined by the gravity of the violation.” It also gives students a private right of action. In other words, students could sue schools directly without going through the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

New Training Materials

The White House’s Not Alone report promised a host of new training materials and information on best-practices for this fall. Below is a list of what we can expect:

  • This Fall — “the CDC, in collaboration with the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women and the Department of Education, will convene a panel of experts to identify emerging, promising practices to prevent sexual assault on campus.”
  • September — “the Justice Department’s Center for Campus Public Safety will develop a training program for campus officials involved in investigating and adjudicating sexual assault cases.”
  • December — “the Department of Education, through the National Center on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, will develop trauma-informed training materials for campus health center staff.”

We look forward to the release of these materials, which should prove valuable to schools trying to develop and improve their comprehensive awareness and prevention programs.

Even without the passage of any new legislation, new federal regulations, along with the recommendations and workshops, should provide schools with a strong set of requirements and best practices that will help them change campus culture to eliminate sexual violence.

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