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Campuses aren’t safe. Are universities doing enough?

What risks do students face on campus? Wolfram Burner, CC BY-NC

Campuses aren’t safe. Are universities doing enough?

What risks do students face on campus? Wolfram Burner, CC BY-NC

In January 2015, a young woman was sexually assaulted while unconscious behind a dumpster on the campus of Stanford University. The victim was visiting campus to attend a fraternity party.

Last week, the perpetrator, Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation. The lenient sentencing of the star athlete has provoked public outrage – on the Stanford campus and nationwide.

An analysis published June 7 by The Washington Post shows that nearly 100 colleges and universities reported at least 10 cases of rape on their campuses in 2014.

Scholars writing for The Conversation have been pointing to the enormous risks students face on campus. They have raised questions about whether universities are doing enough to protect students.

Students at risk

Over 20 percent of all women students surveyed experienced unwanted sexual contact while attending college in 2015, wrote Georgia State University Professor of Law Andrea A. Curcio.

The most vulnerable time is the first two months of the freshman year. In fact, to symbolize the danger, the first few months of the fall freshman semester are now commonly called the sexual assault “red zone.”

A public awareness campaign regarding sexual assault on campus. Wolfram Burner, CC BY-NC

Sarah Cook, professor and associate dean at Georgia State University, wrote about President Obama’s efforts in 2014 at convening a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. She pointed out how the 2013 Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act), which “requires colleges to report more crimes” in their annual Clery Act reports, could have led to the “upsurge” in campus investigations.

Scholars also pointed out how like most other problems, campus assault does not exist in isolation. Leah Daigle, associate professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Georgia State University, noted that it is, above all, the party culture on campuses that puts students at risk.

About 65 percent of college students consume alcohol and just under half engage in binge drinking. Her research looks at which students are most vulnerable.

Lack of information

Knowing that students are at risk, are universities and colleges doing enough?

Elizabeth Englander, professor of psychology at Bridgewater State University and director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC), observed,

Only one-third or fewer of the websites had any information that might be useful to a victim of sexual assault, such as a hotline number, the importance of preserving evidence or how to report sexual assault to police.

To make campuses safer, Georgia State’s Curcio emphasized that studies should be conducted that examine the locations where sexual assaults were more likely to occur.

And, as Englander said, schools need to make sure everyone has access to quality information. However,

only 15 percent of university websites offered any information about how to file an anonymous report.

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