If you’ve been tuned into the news at all in the past few months, you’ve heard about college women coming forward to claim that they had been sexually assaulted on their campus, reported it to someone in the administration at their school and left with little to no help in absolving the tragedy. Unfortunately, it’s a story that has been told far too many times.
Studies show that 1 in 5 college women are sexually assaulted during their college years (Studies also show that 33 men per year are sexually assaulted as well.); yet only 12% of sexual assault victims actually report the incident to the authorities, according to MSNBC
. Now, over 60 institutions are being investigated for their handling -- or lack thereof -- of sexual violence and harassment complaints by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights
. Fortunately, these shocking statistics and tragically, yet brave, public stories have served as a wakeup call for institutions across the country as well as the federal government.
A congressional subcommittee conducted a survey of colleges and found that in the past five years; more than 40% of institutions have disregarded sexual assault claims by failing to perform investigations, as reported by USA Today
. The survey also found that 73% have no formal process for working together with the local law enforcement on sexual assault cases. Some schools don’t even have a designated coordinator for handling sexual assault claims on campus, which is required by federal law, and most schools have more reported incidents than actual investigations.
In recent months, the issue has become so prevalent that President Obama established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault
. The task force will work to identify the full scope of the problem on college campuses through climate surveys and will attempt to decipher how often sexual assault happens on campus, test students’ perceptions about the situation and provide solutions.
Eventually, the task force will help to prevent sexual assault on college campuses and enable schools to respond effectively when a student comes forward with a sexual assault claim. Finally, the task force will advance and make more apparent federal government’s enforcement efforts.
Hopefully, with the courage of the women who have come forward and the efforts made by the federal government, colleges will be forced to protect victims instead of their own reputation, and sexual assault on college campus will become a thing of the past. In the meantime, all students, both male and female, should be aware of what to do and who to turn to in the event of a sexual assault.
If you’ve been assaulted:
- Leave the scene and get to a safe place immediately, whether that’s a friend’s apartment or your own dorm room.
- While your initial reaction may be to clean up, don’t do it. Instead, call or text someone you trust for help. If there is no one you can think of, call the campus counselor’s office. If it’s after hours, call Campus Safety.
- Also, get to a hospital or emergency room as soon as possible – and definitely within 24 hours, where a proper examination of the assault can be performed. Ask for a Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) nurse; however, if there is none on staff, it’s ok to have the exam performed by a physician or nurse practitioner.
- Notify someone in the administration about the assault after you’ve received care. The best place to start is the Office of Student Life or Campus Safety.
- Set up an appointment with a counselor on campus as well. Not only will they be able to help you with next steps, they will also be able to provide sound counseling after such a traumatic experience.
- Talk with your counselor, administrative liaison and the local law enforcement regarding the assault and your options, in addition to how you can handle the incident privately if that’s what you prefer. You can decide whether or not you want to pursue action on campus, in court or both. Even if you don't want to pursue any kind of action, it's helpful to speak with these people about the incident. Don't keep what happened to yourself.
If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault, above all else, know that you’re not alone. And also know that it’s never too late to get help; start with NotAlone.gov