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sexual violence

Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 30, 2015

A new documentary focuses on college sexual assault, a smartphone app aims to help victim/survivors in Washington D.C. and male victim/survivors struggle to find support.

The Hunting Ground

In 2013 Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering shocked the nation with their documentary Invisible War, which focused on sexual assault in the United States Military. Now, they’re turning their camera on American colleges, with The Hunting Ground, which premiered last week at the Sundance Film Festival. According to The New York Times, “audience members repeatedly gasped as student after student spoke on camera about being sexually assaulted—and being subsequently ignored or run through endless hoops by college administrators concerned about keeping rape statistics low.” Set to be released in theaters and air on CNN, and already receiving attention from powerful politicians, including Barbara Boxer and Kirsten Gillibrand, this documentary seems ready to focus even more much-needed attention on campus sexual assault.

ASK Aids DC Victim/Survivors

Washington D.C. offers some of the most comprehensive support in the country for victim/survivors of sexual assault, including guidance from a professional sexual assault counselor, a free ride to Washington D.C. forensic hospital MedStar Washington, and STD tests and HIV-medication free of charge. None of those resources do much good, however, if victim/survivors don’t know they exist or how to access them. That’s where the app Assault Services Knowledge (UASK, in its university specific form) comes in to play. Developed by the group Men Can Stop Rape in conjunction with District of Columbia Mayor’s Office of Victims Services, ASK makes it simple to access available resources by compiling contact information for all local services. The app has already been downloaded 14,000 times, but the ultimate goal is to get the word out to all of Washington’s 100,000 college students and 650,000 residents.

Male Survivors

In a study of male college students, 1 in 25 reported they had been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. A male advocacy group estimates the rate of victimization is much higher at 1 in 6 males are sexually assaulted before age 18. Despite those figures, even a more-than-casual follower of discussions around campus sexual assault might be forgiven for thinking that male victimization is rare or even non-existent. The vast majority of attention focuses on female victim/survivors. Yet, as this profile of a male victim/survivor at Brown University makes clear, that lack of attention can have serious negative consequences for men who experience sexual violence. Societal expectations about masculinity and stereotypes about male victim/survivors, particularly gay male victim/survivors, can discourage reporting or make it more difficult for those who do report to make their stories heard.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 23, 2015

This week we have an editorial revealing that American universities are not the only ones with a sexual assault problem, and two new and potentially innovative tactics for addressing the issue in this country.

Britain Has a Problem with College Sexual Assault Too

If you thought campus sexual assault was a uniquely American problem, this editorial from British professor Nicole Westmarland makes it brutally clear that college campuses across the pond have just as much if not more of a problem with sexual violence. In fact, Professor Westmarland cites statistics even more shocking and perturbing than the ones familiar to us from American studies. According to a poll conducted by The Telegraph, 1 in 3 British female college students experience sexual assault. 97% of sexual assault victims do not report their assault to the university, and 44% said they did not report their assault because they believed the university would do nothing about the violence. Westmarland points to these statistics as an indictment of a higher education culture that she believes would prefer to sweep these problems under the rug rather than discuss and address them. Perhaps encouragingly (at least for Americans) she points to current efforts being taken to address sexual violence on this side of the Atlantic as a model for British universities looking to fight back against campus rape.

Could Sorority Ragers Help Fight Sexual Assault?

Alcohol-fueled fraternity parties have been the setting for numerous high-profile sexual assault cases. Alcohol-fueled sorority parties have not, probably because, by and large, such events do not exist. Now, some female students are wondering whether they should, suggesting not only that a party hosted by a sorority might not pose the same risks as one hosted by a fraternity, but that such events could decrease the overall danger of sexual assault on campus. The theory goes that drinking in a setting where women are in control—of who can and cannot be in their house, of the flow of alcohol, and of their own ability to go upstairs and lock the door at any time—would reverse a power dynamic that at fraternities contributes to the prevalence of sexual assault. Critics of this logic point out that sororities rarely host parties for good reasons, which include the cost of insurance and potential damage to property that generally belongs to a national organization. Furthermore, they suggest that providing yet another venue for excessive drinking may be exactly the wrong strategy for combating a problem closely linked to excessive alcohol consumption.

How Can Taxes and Marijuana Fight Sexual Assault?

Curbing excessive drinking is the heart of the tactic suggested by this piece from New York Magazine. However, author Annie Lowrey suggests a novel tool in the seemingly age-old (and often futile) efforts by schools and government to cut down on students’ drinking: taxation. According to Lawrey, “Study after study has shown that ‘higher prices or taxes were associated with a lower prevalence of youth drinking.’” She posits that increased taxation of alcohol, and especially of alcohol sold in close proximity to college campuses, will lead to decreased drinking and, as a result, a decrease in sexual assaults. The second, more controversial bonus suggestion? That legalizing marijuana could similarly decrease student drinking and thus assaults. According to Lowrey, “there is some evidence that young people tend to substitute pot for alcohol.” Drawing on evidence that cannabis use reduces the likelihood of violent behavior, while drinking increases it, Lowrey suggests that making marijuana more widely available could decrease the risk of assault on college campuses.

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Measuring Sexual Violence
Posted by On Thursday, January 15, 2015

Last month we wrote about what we learned from the Bureau of Justice Statistics new report, “Rape and Sexual Assault Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013.” We noted that the rates reported by the BJS, which were based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), differ from other widely cited statistics about the prevalence of rape among college-age women. In this post, we’ll dive deeper into why these numbers are so different.

What Are the Other Reports?

The NCVS is one of three recent surveys that researchers have used to study rape and sexual assault among college students and in the general population.

The other two are:

The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) 

The Campus Sexual Assault Study (CSA)

Other surveys worth mentioning are the National Violence Against Women Survey and The Sexual Victimization of College Women. Though both studies date to the late 90s, their findings have also been widely cited and can provide useful context and background for anyone who wants to understand this complicated issue.

They Do Different Things

The NISVS, CSA, and NCVS differ in purpose and methodology.

NCVS is a survey about crime. The survey grew out of the realization that many crimes were not reported to police and that a more accurate measure of victimization was needed. Hence, unlike the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting, the NCVS surveys respondents about both reported and unreported crimes.

CSA and NISVS approach rape and sexual assault from a public health perspective. The purpose of the CSA was “To examine the prevalence, nature, and reporting of various types of sexual assault experienced by university students in an effort to inform the development of targeted intervention strategies.” The NISVS’s primary objectives are to measure the prevalence of intimate partner violence and the impact and health consequences of this violence on victims.

They Employ Different Survey Methods

The NCVS follows a group of households over several years, interviewing them every six months. In contrast, the CSA and NISVS are surveys that capture responses from a single point in time. The NCVS asks respondents about events that happened since the last interview, whereas the CSA and NISVS ask about events that occurred during a specified reference period.

The problem in the CSA and NISVS’s approach is that respondents may unintentionally over report the experiences by including events that fell outside the time frame as if they fell within the time frame. According to NCVS, the reporting of traumatic events may be particularly prone to this effect (called telescoping). Thus cross-sectional studies (like the CSA and NISVS) may end up with higher rates than longitudinal studies like the NCVS.

In the NCSV and NISVS, the researchers interview the respondents. This allows them to clarify any confusion around questions but also introduces the possibility that the interviewer might steer or otherwise affect the subject. The CSA, on the other hand, was a web-based survey, which eliminated the influence the interviewer might exert on the respondents but also prevented the respondents from clarifying any confusion they may have had.

They Use Different Definitions

Because the NCVS is a survey about crime, it uses definitions of rape and sexual assault that are “shaped from a criminal justice perspective.” CSA and NISVS use broader definitions of sexual assault that may include incidents that do not rise to the level of a crime. See definitions below (warning: the definitions include explicit language).

The NCVS defines rape as “the unlawful penetration of a person against the will of the victim, with use or threatened use of force, or attempting such an act.” Sexual assault is defined more broadly and generally involves unwanted sexual contact.

The CSA measures rape due to force and incapacitation (that is, when the victim is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol). It also measures unwanted sexual contact.

The NISVS measures five types of sexual violence: rape (including due to incapacitation), sexual coercion (“unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal sexual penetration that occurs after a person is pressured in a nonphysical way”), being made to penetrate someone else, unwanted sexual contact (such as kissing or fondling), and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences (such as flashing or harassment).

They Ask Different Questions

NCVS asks directly about rape, whereas CSA and NISVS both use behavioral cue questions.

For example, the NCVS asks, “has anyone attacked or threatened you in any of these ways…any rape, attempted rape, or other type of sexual attack.” Whereas the NISVS and CSA avoid the terms rape and focus instead on describing events that would qualify as sexual assault or rape, “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever…had vaginal sex with you?”

The way these questions are asked influences how respondents answer. Critics of the NCVS suggest that by asking directly about rape, it fails to measure victims who have experienced rape but may not realize it or may not wish to acknowledge it. Critics of the CSA and NISVS’s questions suggest that they over report sexual assault by using broader and potentially confusing definitions.

They Survey Different People

The CSA only surveys students, and the NISVS does not ask respondents whether or not they are students. Thus, NCSV is the only one of the three surveys that allows researchers to reliably compare rates between students and non-students.

It should also be noted that while both the NCVS and NISVS survey the general population, the CSA only surveyed undergraduate students at two large public universities (one in the South and one in the Midwest).

Interested in More Information?

The National Crime Victimization Survey offers its own discussion of why rates of sexual violence vary between different surveys. We recommend that you read their analysis.

 

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Yearly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 2, 2015

In lieu of our usual Weekly Roundup we want to start 2015 with a look back at six of the most important stories we covered in 2014. We list them here in the order in which they were originally published.

White House Task Force Tells Victims “You’re Not Alone”

This year the Obama administration launched its anti-sexual assault campaign in earnest, including a White House task force and the ad campaign “It’s On Us.”

A Checklist for Title IX Employee Training

If you have any doubts about what your Title IX training for faculty and staff should include, take a look at this useful checklist compiled by our legal team.

2 Minutes Will Change How Your Students Think About Consent

Teaching the definition of consent can be as awkward as it is crucial. This video, originally created for our award-winning online training, tackles this potentially tough lesson in an engaging, easy to follow format.

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act

One of the biggest stories about campus sexual assault and higher education law in 2014, the proposed Campus Accountability and Safety Act, is almost certainly going to be an even bigger story in 2015. Get the scoop now on what the proposed legislation could mean for your institution.

California’s New Consent Law: Yes Means Yes vs. No Means No

Even if California law doesn’t apply to you and your institution, this rundown of the Golden State’s new affirmative consent law is an instructive analysis of the difference between “No Means No” and “Yes Means Yes” definitions of consent.

A Rundown of the Campus SaVE Act Final Regulations: Prevention Programs

Finally, our legal team provides an analysis of a topic with which they are particularly familiar: what the Campus SaVE Act’s final regulations require for schools’ prevention programs. Check out the link above to learn what your institution has to do to be in compliance.

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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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How Can Campuses Improve Reporting?
Posted by On Monday, November 17, 2014

After schools released their Annual Clery Reports last month, it became apparent that the number of reported sexual assaults was on the rise. But rather than interpreting these numbers as a crime wave on college campuses, most experts saw the increase as a good sign. It meant that awareness about sexual assault was spreading on campuses, reporting procedures were improving, and survivors felt more comfortable coming forward. As the headline at the Huffington Post announced, “Colleges are Reporting More Sexual Assaults, And That’s A Great Sign.”

But if schools want to improve reporting even more, what are some steps they can take to make it happen?

Inform Students What Constitutes Sexual Violence

The reasons survivors of sexual violence choose not to report their assault to the police are complex and varied. There are of course obvious factors like the availability and accessibility of resources. Other important factors that can influence the decision to report include shame, fear of retaliation, distrust of authorities, and cultural or familial pressures.

Research also suggests, however, that how students understand an incident influences whether or not they report. According to the Campus Sexual Assault Study (2007), the most common reasons for not reporting were related to individuals’ perception of the incident. Over half of all victims who didn’t go to the police said they didn’t think the incident was serious enough to report and over a third didn’t report because they were unsure that what they experienced was a crime.

Similarly, when studying the informal disclosure of intimate partner violence, researchers Kateryna Sylaska and Katie Edwards found that the motives the survivors attributed to their partner’s violence also mattered. When individuals attributed their partner’s violence to “anger or jealousy” they were more likely to talk to someone than when they attributed that violence to “controlling, protecting, or a loving motive.” This research points to the importance of teaching students what behaviors qualify as sexual assault. Many students simply don’t know.

Train Your Campus on How to Respond to Disclosures

Most survivors, however, do tell someone about their assault. It’s just that most choose not to go to the police, campus authorities, or formal support services. For example, according to the Campus Sexual Assault study, while only 16% of physically forced sexual assault victims and 8% of incapacitated sexual assault victims visited a formal support service, and a paltry 13% and 2% respectively went to a law enforcement agency, 70% and 64% disclosed to someone close to them: a friend, family member, roommate, or intimate partner. Thus, if we wish to help survivors, it might be worthwhile to train students, faculty, and staff on how to respond when someone discloses a sexual assault to them. These informal support networks can also give survivors information about physical and mental health services they need and act as conduits to other university resources.

Give Survivors Choices

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind, that not all responses to survivor’s disclosures are equally helpful. Some can dissuade them from seeking further help or even re-traumatize them. In their research, Sylaska and Edwards discovered some important facts about what reactions survivors found helpful.

Helpful reactions included

• providing emotional support,
• allowing the victim to talk about the abuse, and
• providing practical or tangible support (like a place to stay).

Negative reactions included

• pressuring the victim to act in a certain way,
• not taking the violence seriously, or
• blaming the victim.

Survivor responses to advice were mixed. Advice was helpful when sought, the researchers found, but unsolicited advice felt frustrating and disempowering. This is why pressuring a survivor to report can actually be harmful. After all, a survivor’s goals don’t always align with formal reporting. As one activist explained, “a survivor’s number one priority is not necessarily to get their perpetrator arrested, it’s about moving forward and feeling safe in one’s community and healing.” Indeed, one ongoing controversy currently debated on college campuses is the extent to which faculty and staff are required to report to higher ups when students disclose a sexual assault to them. Advocates worry that requiring employees to report takes control away from survivors, potentially inflicting more distress on them.

Given the emphasis on supporting survivor autonomy, however, there is a hopeful shift at some schools and police departments to a victim-centered approach, which focuses on the needs of the survivor. New York Magazine recently profiled the program “You Have Options” developed by Police Detective Carrie Hull for the Ashland Police Department. You Have Options gives survivors more control over their case, including the whether to pursue the complaint as an “anonymous tip or a full criminal investigation” and the option to “upgrade or downgrade their investigation at any time.” The program also follows best practices regarding interviewing victims and ensuring they are well supported throughout the process. Indeed, Hull’s original aim was to create a space where victims felt comfortable talking to the police. “We found we needed to get people to a place they didn’t feel like they were being pulled or pushed through the process,” Hull elaborated in the  article. “And instead they were leading the way.”

During Senator Claire McCaskill’s third roundtable on campus sexual violence, Hull talked about the program and her initial reservations that giving victims more control might hinder police from catching perpetrators. But she soon realized that this mindset was exactly wrong. The victims are “never responsible for the offender doing that next offense,” she explained. “The offender is responsible for that next offense, not the victim…what I think we have to realize is that we are doing something about it by allowing a survivor to enter the criminal justice system in the way that’s right for them” (1:02:46).

And Hull’s approach has had overwhelming positive results. According to New York Magazine, reports have increased by 106 percent since the program officially began last year. “We shifted our focus as a team to what does a survivor want, and out of that came better healing, but also identifying way more perpetrators,” Hull said.

A similar program has now been developed at the Southern Oregon University in Ashland and Hull’s program served as the model for proposals in Senators Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand’s Campus Accountability and Safety Act. Perhaps You Have Options can serve as an example for other programs around the country.

 

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, November 7, 2014

For this week’s roundup the emphasis is on research and writing to inform reporting on and the handling of campus sexual assault cases. We spotlight a new initiative from Newsweek to cover sexual assault as well as helpful resources for anyone working on these complex issues whether from a distance or on the ground.

Newsweek to Crowdfund Reporting on College Sexual Assault

Newsweek is partnering with crowdfunding platform Beacon and journalist Mandy Van Deven to support “Understanding the College Rape Crisis,” a long-term investigative journalism project that will see Van Deven embedded at various schools, conducting numerous interviews, and publishing regular updates as well as longer, more in-depth reports. Van Deven says, “My coverage will try to strip away the sensationalism and focus on the nuts and bolts of what it takes to be responsible for the well-being of thousands of young people.” Having covered numerous similar stories, published a book on gender-based violence and human rights, and worked as a peer reviewer for Feminist Studies, Van Deven appears to be well-equipped to work on a project of this scope on this particular subject. As noted in the Newsweek article linked to above, crowdfunding this project reflects a growing trend in journalism that has successfully funded a variety of other similar projects “where editorial mission and public interest align.”

Sexual Violence Research Roundup

The need for more research to develop effective sexual violence prevention strategies is the focus of this research roundup from Journalist’s Resource, which not only encourages responsible journalism but could also be highly useful to college administrators. It includes an in-depth summary of recent developments in sexual violence coverage and prevention efforts as well as summaries of and links to some of the latest academic studies on sexual assault and prevention.

Guidelines for Talking About Sexual Assault

While written for the media, another useful resource for both college administrators and anyone working to solve the problem of campus sexual assault is available on the website Know Your IX. This page describes do’s and don’ts for covering sexual assault stories, including contextualizing gender-based violence, choosing language to avoid victim blaming, and accurately reporting the rate of false reports. While the advice is geared towards journalists, many sections, including what language to use to describe assaults and tips for interviewing survivors, could be extremely useful for administrators dealing with assault cases on their campuses.

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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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Looking Back on ATIXA
Posted by On Friday, October 17, 2014

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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