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Apr 03 2017
by Anna DiGiacomo

A Guide to Understanding Sexual Assault on College Campuses

By Anna DiGiacomo - Apr 03 2017

In 2015, a former Stanford swimmer sexually assaulted a woman outside a fraternity party and was sentenced to six months in prison with a three-year probationary period. In 2014, Baylor University demoted the school’s president and fired its football coach after an investigation revealed the school’s failure to respond to sexual assault reports against the football players.  

Sadly, these narratives aren’t uncommon. According to federal campus safety data, 100 college campuses have had at least 10 reports of rape on their campuses in 2014. Topping this list, Brown University and the University of Connecticut each had 43 reported cases.

These high numbers demonstrate two conflicting trends. First, data shows that sexual assault and rape are still huge issues on college campuses. Clearly, more must be done to protect the student body — both men and women — from these continued assaults.

There is, however, some hope to be found in these numbers. The high amount of reported cases at Brown University and the University of Connecticut shows that victims are willing to report the crimes to the university. Since rape and sexual assault are some of the most underreported crimes, this new trend may prove to be key in preventing sexual crimes on campus.

What Is Sexual Assault?

According to the Department of Justice, sexual assault is “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” It covers a wide range of unwanted behaviors — that don't have to necessarily include penetration — attempted against a victim’s will. This may include voyeurism, exposure to exhibitionism or inappropriate touching of a victim’s genitals. Current statistics estimate that one in five college women will be sexually assaulted at some point in their college careers.

Wolfram Burner via Flickr Creative Commons

What Is Rape?

Though rape definitions and punishments vary state by state, most statutes define rape as a felony involving the nonconsensual oral, anal or vaginal penetration of a victim. Unsurprisingly, rape statistics vary widely depending on how the crime is defined and the tendency of women to not report the crime. However, most recent studies suggest that 27.5 percent of college women report experiences that meet the legal criteria for rape.

Wolfram Burner via Flickr Creative Commons

What Is the Role of Campus Organizations?

With more and more victims willing to speak up, the dialogue about sexual assault and rape crimes on campus has never been more open. Thankfully, college campus activism has also never been higher. National organizations are taking root on college campuses, spreading awareness about sexual crimes and providing resources to the student body. Meanwhile, student-run organizations are taking matters into their own hands by providing opportunities for other students willing to help make a difference.

Below are just a few organizations championing for change.

1. End Rape on Campus (EROC)

As a national organization, End Rape on Campus specializes in providing free and confidential resources to sexual crime victims. According to their website, EROC’s mission is to provide direct support to campus activists who are looking to file federal complaints, such as Title IX or Clergy complaints, in order to hold universities accountable.  

2. Know Your IX

A newer organization, Know Your IX, was founded in 2013 by sexual violence victims and is run by students across the country. Its name references Title IX provisions that aim to keep all students safe and equal. As a grassroots movement, this campaign works closely with various student bodies to bring an end to campus sexual violence. Know Your IX focuses on educating people about their civil rights, while also pressuring legislative bodies to make comprehensive sexual violence law changes.

3. SAFER: Students Active for Ending Rape on Campus

Started in 2000 by a group of Columbia University students looking to make a difference, SAFER fights sexual violence and rape culture through student-led campaigns dedicated to reforming campus sexual assault policies.

4. FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture

According to its mission statement, FORCE believes that a more honest and difficult conversation needs to take place in America before real sexual assault reform can take place. FORCE uses art to generate media attention and open a national dialogue about the realities of sexual violence. One of its projects, The Monument Quilt, is a collection of thousands of real rape and abuse stories.

While we still have a long way to go in stopping sexual violence on college campuses, these organizations are helping us take our first steps in the right direction. Whether it's educating the student body on signs of abuse, holding universities accountable or simply offering moral support for victims, there are so many different ways to support the cause.

Be sure to check your campus registry to see what organizations are active in your college or contact a national organization to start your own chapter. Remember, anyone can make a difference.

Lead Image Credit: Devon Buchanan via Flickr Creative Commons

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Anna DiGiacomo - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Anna is a freshman Strategic Communications major at UNC Chapel Hill. She played varsity soccer in high school and besieged the student body with libertarianism. She now spends her time annoying her roommate, catching Bruce Springsteen concerts and getting lost while pretending to camp. Follow her on Instagram @digiacomoa

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