What is being done (and not being done) to halt the epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses

Campus Sexual AssaultsAnti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly has now managed to utter one of the most ridiculous, demeaning and discriminatory statements many of us have heard in a long time. Apparently, there are too many women going to college nowadays and she’s made it clear that it’s their fault they are sexually assaulted. She suggests a mandate for college admissions to limit enrollments to “half women and half men” and to stop granting college loans as a way to prevent sexual assaults on campus. I wonder if she would feel better if American’s adopted a “female infanticide” practice like India or China?

It is likely the timing of her absurd statements was sparked by public outcry over the recent gang rape reported by Rolling Stone. The article went viral in headlines and on social media sites, later to be questioned and scrutinized for their failure to reach out to the alleged attackers. Whatever her reasons, she is way out of line with this illogical, archaic, pre-civil rights era thinking.

An Epidemic

Gender-based violence is a matter of utmost concern. It occurs locally as well as globally in homes, in the community and in nearly every culture. It’s not limited to college campuses, and it has nothing to do with how many women are going to college. In fact, it has now been reported that non-students are actually more likely than students to be victimized. Part of the problem, however, does seem to be in how colleges approach the issue of violence against women on their campuses. I’ll come back to this in a few moments.

Reporter David Crary reveals some startling facts about the prevalence of violence against women on a global scale, and says that the World Health Organization declares the problem epidemic, claiming one in three women worldwide will experience sexual violence.

Crary shares facts both from the U.S. as well as other countries, such as the 300 schoolgirls being abducted in Nigeria, rape in war zones, a pregnant woman being stoned to death for marrying the man she loved, and additional instances of gang rape, murder and violence against women.

He quotes one person as saying that the violence isn’t something new, but people are now saying it’s enough, and are beginning to hold those in power accountable. Another is quoted as saying governments are acknowledging that prevention of this gender-based violence is the responsibility of the state.

Who or what is at fault?

We need to stop for a moment and reflect on one of the largest contributing factors to gender-based violence, stereotypes, as well as look at what is being done to prevent the violence. Crary presents arguments from both sides of the feminist/anti-feminist debate in a well-rounded summation of on-going gender inequality and violence.

He quotes anti-feminist Christina Hoff Sommers as saying, “Is there misogyny in American culture? Yes,” she said. “But we also have a problem with male-bashing and hatred of men.” She apparently is referring to the common stereotype of radical feminism. She is also is quoted as saying “Creating this idea that women in America are an oppressed class, that we are held back by patriarchy similar to our sisters living under Sharia law — that’s just ridiculous.”

It is this kind of attitude that cultivates the patriarchal thought she is attempting to condemn in her own uninformed, paradoxical way. This example demonstrates the universal patriarchal mindset in society, maintaining and perpetuating oppression through generations.

Crary also points out that there is an outpouring of online debate over the extent of misogyny and male entitlement. Misogyny is the hatred of women, and male entitlement is overstepping the innate privilege that all men carry just by being men and boldly claiming it as a right. It is these two elements that together have given men hegemonic control in our society, and women are commonly treated as “less than” in comparison to men in nearly every facet of daily life. Sadly, as one can see, this type of thinking is also ingrained in some women, such as Schlafly and Sommers.

He includes commentary from the president of the National Organization of Women, who claims government neglect of anti-women practices is global, and though it takes different forms in different countries, it still has the underlying attitude of devaluing women as human beings.

He quotes Julia Drost from Amnesty International as saying that people from world leaders to family members need to take responsibility. He makes a point of including references to changes that are occurring in our society. He mentions the International Violence Against Women Act, is designed to make anti-women’s violence a higher diplomatic priority, as well as stating the military is “stepping up efforts to combat sexual assault.”

Campus sexual assaultsInstitutions are under investigation

One other important action Crary mentions is in regards to the Obama administration campaigning against sexual violence at college and universities. The Department of Education has revealed a list of schools under investigation for their responses to this issue.

Tyler Kingkade unbiasedly covered a Senate round-table discussion in mid-2014 on the subject of colleges and their approach to sexual violence on campus. The issue at hand was a disagreement between school administrators and advocates for victims on just when a school should tell students about a reported rape on campus. Rape is just one of many forms of sexual assault, and each should have been addressed with equal attention, but it is unclear in this article whether they were addressed or not.

The round-table was hosted by Sen. Claire McClaskill (D-Mo.) and panelists included victim advocacy groups, college administrators, prosecutors, McClaskill and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) It appears all sides of the debate were represented.

The Clery Act

Timely warnings are required under the Clery Act for ongoing threats to student safety. The Clery Act is a Federal law which went into effect in 1990, and has had several notable amendments. This law requires colleges participating in federal funding programs to keep and disclose acts of crime, including those sexual in nature, on or near college campuses. Attorney Laura Dunn indicated “the law … gives schools discretion on when to issue warnings, requiring them only when there is an ongoing threat. Further, the law prevents disclosure of identifying information about the victim.”

The Clery Act covers several different crime types which include mandates in several areas concerning sexual violence. This includes institutional responsibility in maintaining a statement of policy on campus sexual assault and education programs, disciplinary actions, and prevention programs, to name a few areas of obligations.

The Act covers prevention grants, prevents retaliation by school officials when a sexual assault is reported, and a mandate given that when a student reports an act of sexual violence, they are given a written explanation of their rights, among several other revised or amended statutes. The newest amendments were signed into effect on March 7, 2013 by President Obama.

Colleges benefit when they keep silent

There has been intense controversy over schools failing to issue campus warnings. One instance of questionable timing was at the University of Oregon, when the campus community learned through local media that the school knew three men on the basketball team had been accused of rape, yet did not report it for two months. Another instance was at John Hopkins University, where police were investigating a fraternity gang rape, but rather than alert the campus, they kept quiet and the fraternity kept throwing parties.

Fraternity members are three times more likely to rape than other men on college campuses. Frats are also predominately heterosexual and phallocentric in that women take a passive role, generally being exploited for their sexual capabilities. By accepting this role, women become second-class citizens in the academic social order.

Police Chief Paul Denton at The University of Ohio said the people on the Ohio State campus asked the department to issue warnings for every reported sexual assault, but administrators at the round-table said there is the possibility a campus warning could identify a sexual assault victim. However, sometimes law enforcement asks the college to remain quiet to avoid jeopardizing an investigation. McCaskill is quoted as saying the problem with timely warnings is that “You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

Kingkade’s article also mentioned that Attorney Laura Dunn, in an email to Senate staffers after the roundtable, wrote “Colleges benefit from hiding instances of sexual violence and this requirements [sic] forces them to expose ongoing issues and allows students to protect themselves.” These “benefits” include Federal funding.

The dissenters of the requirement to give timely warnings demonstrate a glaring example of the oppression of women by those in power. In not issuing timely warnings, students will believe the crime rate on campus is less than actuality, and therefore will continue to attend, which in turn guarantees continued funding for the school, but could ultimately put them at risk. Sadly, students must rely on the school’s reporting of itself, and it leaves one to posit that forthrightness is not necessarily conducive to the institution’s economic standing.

A long road ahead

This type of ideological thinking stunts progress towards true gender equality. Feminist movements are crucial in both our history and in modern times, aiding in deconstructing the gendered social order in society. All cultures and societies have a long road ahead to achieve the goal of social justice for all human beings on the planet. Sexual violence is a critical issue that can only be addressed properly and in its entirety when binary patriarchal control ceases to exist in our society and oppression of women is a thing of the past. Not surprisingly, this is going to take a while.


  1. Before you cry “Epidemic!” you ought to trot out some statistics. We know some accusations are fraudulent, and some are not. We also know that men and women often make bad decisions when drunk, and that is especially true of adolescents. We know that people often rationalize their actions for their own moral benefit. Colleges are not equipped or qualified to investigate these matters, and all such accusations should be handled by the judicial system.

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