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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, July 31, 2015

In this weeks’ roundup: the pressure to be perfect hurts some students’ well-being, a push to expand training on sexual violence to K-12, and a Senate hearing on combating campus sexual assault.

Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection

We’ve written about the increase in students’ self-reported mental health problems here and here. This piece from The New York Time examines how the pressure to be perfect can negatively affect students’ mental health and may even be linked to suicide. In the transition to college, high-performing students who faced few setbacks in high school may suddenly find themselves struggling in more advanced classes or lagging behind more accomplished peers.”[C]ultural dynamics of perfectionism and overindulgence,” explain the article, “have now combined to create adolescents who are ultra-focused on success but don’t know how to fail.” As one counselor explained to the Times, “What you and I would call disappointments in life, to them feel like big failures.” For some students, this sense of failure leads to mental health issues or even suicide. Despite their struggles, however, many students try to maintain a facade of happiness and easy success, exacerbating the problem. At some schools, students even have a name for this phenomenon: “Penn Face.” As one student explained to The Times: “Nobody wants to be the one who is struggling while everyone else is doing great…Despite whatever’s going on — if you’re stressed, a bit depressed, if you’re overwhelmed — you want to put up this positive front.”  As a result, some schools are looking at ways to alleviate this pressure and to have more open conversations around mental health issues.

Campus Sexual Assault Prevention in K-12 

Campus Climate surveys are revealing that over a quarter of college women report being the target of rape or attempted rape before ever coming to college and around 20% of college men have committed some kind of sexual assault in the five years leading up to arrive on a college campus. This data is being used to add to the efforts of including sexual assault prevention in high school sex education.  The Teach Safe Relationships Act of 2015, which currently sits in the senate,  would give high schools grant money for including rape prevention and consent education in their sex ed curriculum.  California is currently reviewing legislation to make affirmative consent education mandatory in high school sex ed programs.  At this time, only 20 states and the District of Columbia require high school sex education to include information about “avoiding coerced sex.”  Moreover, only 35 states even require education around either sex or STIs. “We need to get that education out there early on,” Dr. Heidi Zinzow of Clemson University, said in an interview with Huffington Post. “I think a lot of these men would think, ‘Oh what do I do instead, do I need to ask?’ They just don’t even have the basic skills or know what the scripts could be. They need the social skills to know how to get consent.”

Senate Committee Hearing on Combating Campus Sexual Assault

On Wednesday, July 29, 2015, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA), focusing on campus sexual assault. Senators McCaskill, Heller, Ayotte, and Gillibrand testified in support of proposed amendments to the HEA in the pending Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which include required campus climate surveys and confidential advisors for victims reporting sexual violence. Senator Gillibrand also submitted a letter of support from the Louisiana legislature, which recently passed a state version of CASA. Both committee members and witnesses voiced strong support for mandated prevention education for all students and employees. In addition, President of the University of California, Janet Napolitano, recommended that federal legislation be flexible enough to allow large and small institutions to address the different issues facing their campus communities. Responding to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s question about prevention efforts on the UC campuses, Napolitano said that online, in-person, and peer-to-peer prevention education are being used by the UC system to improve campus climates and promote community involvement to prevent sexual violence. Dana Bolger of Know Your IX also responded to Warren’s question stating, “the most important thing about prevention education is that it starts early and it just keeps going.”

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Senators Focus on Campus Assault Police Reports
Posted by On Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Previously, we have written about victims’ reluctance to report campus sexual assaults to the police. Finding the solution to that problem is front and center in the debate about how schools and the criminal justice system should be handling cases of sexual violence. This debate set the stage for a hearing held last week by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on improving law enforcement’s response to campus sexual assault and the relationship between police departments and campuses.

Opening remarks at the hearings unanimously called for a different approach that will better address sexual assault victims’ fear of being revictimized when reporting these crimes.

Sen. Claire McCaskill discussed the importance of strengthening victim support systems, stating that “A victim who is assaulted on a Friday night needs to know, on that Friday night, where she can call and where she can go for confidential support and good information, which we hope gives her the encouragement to make the choice to move forward in the criminal justice system.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand testified, “[O]ur ultimate goal should be that 100 percent of survivors of campus sexual assault feel comfortable and confident reporting to law enforcement . . . But, time and again, I have heard from far too many survivors of campus sexual assault that they have felt re-victimized by the process of trying to seek justice for the crime committed against them.”

Last July, together with a bipartisan group of Senators, Senators McCaskill and Gillibrand introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, intended to protect and empower students and increase accountability for schools around sexual violence.

Improving Campus Response Goes Hand-in-Hand With Improving Police Response

Angela Fleischer, the Assistant Director of Student Support and Intervention for Confidential Advising at Southern Oregon University, helped create the Ashland Police Department’s You Have Options Program and Southern Oregon’s Campus Choice. Fleischer said at the hearings that “The need for programs like these is urgent and undeniable . . ..”

According to Fleischer, improving the campus response goes hand-in-hand with improving the law enforcement response. To improve reporting of sexual assault, she urges both campus administration and law enforcement to start by training anyone who interviews victims on trauma informed interviewing techniques. By creating a coordinated victim-centered approach, the You Have Options and Campus Choice programs have more than doubled reporting of sexual assault in their jurisdictions.

This approach also focuses on collecting information about offenders in the community by allowing victims to come forward and report in the manner in which they are most comfortable, whether it is anonymously, in person, or online. Besides having control over reporting, victims also decide the timeframe and scope of the investigation with the option to suspend the investigation at any time.

Best Practices

Speaking from the perspective of law enforcement, Kathy Zoner, Chief of the Cornell University Police, offered best practices that can be adopted on all campuses:

  • Adopt victim-centered and offender-focused response procedures;
  • Prioritize medical and advocacy resources for every victim who reports a sexual assault;
  • Provide non-victim-blaming education to community members within the agency’s jurisdiction;
  • Train and hold accountable every member of the participating agency – sworn and non-sworn – for the same victim-centered and offender-focused response; and
  • Promote an environment within the agency where victims of sexual assault are not judged or blamed for their assault and instead are treated with dignity, sensitivity, and courtesy.

Creating a New System

Peg Langhammer, Executive Director of Day One, Rhode Island’s sexual assault coalition, told the committee that what’s needed is to create a new universal system such as the You Have Options program. According to Langhammer, “We can’t expect victims to report when the system in place doesn’t work . . . So the question is not, should colleges be mandated to report these crimes to police? The question is how do we create a system where the victim’s choices are the priority and the process is designed to work in the best interest of the victim?”

Langhammer recommends a new system made up of a team of representatives from law enforcement, prosecution, victim advocates, medical professionals, and higher education that is responsible for handling sexual assault cases from the initial report to investigation and resolution.

According to Langhammer, “The college hearing process should be integrated with law enforcement. Police need to be involved, but it has to be a team approach.”

Cooperation and Education

Senators Grassley, McCaskill, Gillibrand, and Whitehouse all pledged to work with the new Congress to pass the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which would require schools to enter into a memorandum of understanding with local law enforcement to define their respective responsibilities and to share information in sexual violence cases, “when directed by the victim.”

Meanwhile, Philip Cohen, Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland at College Park, argues that an institution’s “most important obligation and best hope for solving the problem: educating students to change the culture around sexual violence.”

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, December 12, 2014

For this week’s roundup we bring you the latest news from the Senate and the Department of Justice’s report on sexual assault.

Senate Hearings on Campus Sexual Assault

On Tuesday the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime met to discuss campus sexual assault. Senators expressed concern with the way campus sexual assaults are handled by universities and colleges, with several lawmakers questioning the role of the police, or lack thereof, in investigating assaults. Additionally, both Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Sen. Claire McCaskill expressed concerns about how the fall-out from Rolling Stone’s now-controversial article on an alleged gang rape at UVA  might affect efforts to fight campus sexual assault at UVA and other schools. Senator Gillibrand said, “And I hope it will not discourage other students from coming forward because it is the students themselves all across the country who are demanding reform and their voices are vital in this debate. And I refuse to let this story become an excuse for Congress to do nothing and accept a broken system.”

Senate Will Move Forward with Campus Sexual Assault Bill in the New Year

One thing the Republican take-over of the Senate will not affect in the new year is Senate plans for bills to combat college sexual assault. Indeed, Republican co-sponsor of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act Chuck Grassley is set to become the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Senate Republicans take control of the Senate next year. Said Grassley, “Obviously, this is something we are going to deal with or I wouldn’t be putting my name on a bill. I would think it’s a major issue.”  As we’ve previously reported, the CASA legislation would increase support and resources for victims and survivors, including the creation of a new confidential advisor position at all colleges and universities.

The DOJ Report on Sexual Assault

The Department of Justice has released a report on sexual assault and rape among college-aged females. Their findings are sobering, as might be expected. According to the report, “Fewer than one in five female student and non-student victims of rape and sexual assault received assistance from a victim services agency,” a finding that reinforces the need for a victim-centered approach . The DOJ also found that college-aged women were more likely to experience rape and sexual assault than any other age group, that women not in school were more likely to be assaulted than their peers in college, and that young women in school were less likely to report their assault to law enforcement.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, July 11, 2014

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill’s report on college sexual assault, released earlier this week and based on the results of a survey of 440 schools and three roundtable discussions, concluded that most colleges and universities simply aren’t doing enough to prevent sexual assault on their campuses. With that in mind, we want to use this week’s roundup to bring you three stories of measures schools and lawmakers are taking to address the sexual assault crisis.

Can Banning Grain Alcohol Stop Campus Sexual Assault?

In Maryland, lawmakers are following the lead of neighboring states Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania by banning the sale of 190-proof grain alcohols. Supporters of the ban, a group that includes state legislators and local college administrators, describe such liquors, which include the popular Everclear, as “a different category of alcohol” and “the worst of the grain alcohol.”

(more…)

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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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