screenshot of NotAlone.Gov
Back in January, the White House released a report on sexual assault in the United States. That same report noted that sexual assaults on campus occurs at a frustratingly high rate—1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted in college (see the January report here).
In response to that statistic, the drafters of the report called for a special task force on campus sexual assault (White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault). The task force’s new report, released this morning, looks at how to best prevent sexual assault and how campuses can respond effectively when such assaults happen—something that, sadly, multiple colleges and universities fail to do. In addition, the Administration launched NotAlone.Gov, which provides compliance details, as well as resources for students who need crisis services and reporting services.
Key findings and recommendations of the report (read in full here):
- More work needs to be done on campuses to find out about sexual assault. Sexual assaults on campus are, for multiple and complex reasons, underreported. In order to increase the general understanding of the breadth of the problem, a voluntary survey will commence in the next academic year. In the future, this report is likely to be a legislative or administrative mandate.
- Federal law currently requires schools to provide sexual assault prevention and awareness programs. However, the task force has released stronger guidance and tools. The CDC’s findings in its systematic review of primary prevention strategies are recommended for campus use, as is bystander intervention training—especially men. The task force will also investigate new prevention strategies, many of which will require cross-agency federal coordination.
- School failures to properly and effectively respond to sexual assault is problematic—it not only can be a violation of obligations under federal law, but it can deeply hinder the recovery of and re-violate sexual assault survivors. The report calls for effective reporting and help for survivors, including through use of trained confidential victim advocates and confidentiality protocols.
- Furthermore, school failures must be stemmed through other means. Some of these will be short-term changes: The task force will provide schools new sample sexual misconduct policies on which they should mold their own, while multiple federal agencies will train various campus staff on how to best respond to sexual assaults and proceed through sexual assault reports and sanctions. Planned long-term research includes new models for investigating and adjudicating sexual assaults on campus will be pursued this fall, and Justice Department work on piloting sex offender treatment for college perpetrators.
- The report states that the federal government can also improve. Better information sharing and transparency, including through the launch of NotAlone.gov, as well as strengthened Department of Education enforcement procedures should lead to further effective responses to systemic failures in campus sexual assaults.
Are these perfect changes? They’re certainly a step forward, according to a Know Your IX, a survivor-led organization dedicating to empowering students to stop sexual assault. However, the task force recommendations are not without critique. Here’s part of Know Your IX’s reaction to the report:
We are particularly encouraged by the Task Force’s commitment to transparency, which we have demanded repeatedly since our first action. We hope that improved access to information about previous and ongoing Title IX investigations will provide students and their families with much-needed insight into universities’ track records on sexual violence and will allow the public to hold both schools and ED accountable. We note, however, that to promote true transparency, ED must make the list of schools under investigation available publicly rather than solely upon request, as the Task Force now requires. We are also glad to see our recommendation that the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Department of Justice, and Federal Student Aid Office coordinate their efforts to ensure effective investigations.
Still, these changes will mean little until Title IX enforcement is finally given teeth. It is unconscionable that, in ED’s entire history, the agency has never once sanctioned a school for sexual violence-related violations of Title IX. Such tolerance allows institutional abuses to go unchecked at students’ expense. We hope that legislators will step in to fill this gap in the Task Force’s recommendations by providing the OCR with new tools to hold schools accountable and protect students’ civil rights. For example, we ask Congress to empower the OCR to levy intermediate fines for Title IX violations. Currently the OCR has only two options at its disposal: revoke all federal funding — which would be devastating for students, particularly those dependent upon federal financial aid — or do nothing at all. Intermediate sanctions would allow the OCR to hold schools accountable without hurting students in the process.
It will take a while for all of the pieces of this report to be realized, but today represents a positive step in preventing sexual assault on campus.