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.
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.”
They hope that banning the alcohol, often used in deceptively strong drinks such as the infamous classic Jungle Juice, can curb sexual assault by reducing binge drinking and thereby limiting perpetrators’ ability to incapacitate potential victims without their knowledge.
Critics of the ban, while acknowledging the connection between substance abuse and sexual assault, argue that the ban fails to address the root causes of sexual violence on college campuses. Tracy Vitchers, board chairman of Students Active for Ending Rape, argues that alcohol in and of itself is not the problem: “The problem is that we aren’t teaching kids about consent, how to be respectful of their sexual partners…we’re not teaching them that a drunk or passed out person cannot consent.”
To date, no school has ever lost federal funding over a Title IX or Clery Act violation. With the current fervor over America’s college sexual assault crisis, and over 60 colleges and universities under investigation for Title IX and Clery Act violations, many are beginning to wonder if that could change in the near future, including at least a few lawmakers who actually have some amount of influence over the deployment of the Department of Education’s so-called nuclear option.
Despite public pressure to ramp up efforts to prevent sexual assault on college campuses, not all lawmakers are convinced that the time has come, or will come, to go nuclear. Senator Claire McCaskill summarized the dilemma well, saying “I think there’s value to cooperating, but then there’s also value to bringing the hammer down. And if no school ever thinks the hammer is going to come down then that’s a problem.”
One school doing what it can to address its sexual assault problem before becoming the nuclear option’s test case is Harvard University. In the midst of an investigation by the Department of Education, Harvard is changing its sexual assault policies and procedures. Changes include the establishment of a new Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution and have been sent to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for approval. They will be implemented at the start of the 2014-2015 school year this Fall.