Student activism has put addressing the campus sexual assault epidemic at the forefront of the feminist movement. Not only are survivors and advocates fighting for better laws and policies—on campus and at the state and federal level—they are also using the courts to hold schools accountable, winning monetary settlements, and forcing universities to change how they handle reports of sexual violence. We demand safer campuses—and by mobilizing this momentum, we can create them!
“Rape culture” is a complex set of beliefs that create a social environment in which sexual violence is pervasive and normalized. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, objectification of bodies, and glamorization of violence. Behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim-blaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, or refusing to acknowledge the harm of sexual assault.
Sexual assault is a general term for any non-consensual touching or sexual activity. Sexual assault is violence that can take many forms – including rape, non-consensual sexual activity, and sexual harassment. The federal government and each state have their own legal definitions of sexual assault.
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature are all forms of sexual harassment. Title IX requires schools to take steps to prevent and remedy two forms of sex-based harassment: sexual harassment (including sexual violence) and gender-based harassment. It includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
Consent is the explicit and enthusiastic expression of mutual desire and permission between parties to participate in a sexual activity. Definitions of consent also vary according to campus, state, and localities. Sexual activity without consent is sexual violence. Consent is not always spoken, but the absence of a “no” is not a “yes.” Minors, people who are mentally incapacitated or unconscious, and people under the influence of drugs or alcohol are unable to give consent. Consent can be withdrawn at any time during sexual activity.
Coercion refers to threatening or intimidating someone in order to persuade them to engage in a sexual behavior. Someone saying “yes” because they are too afraid to say “no” is not consent. Someone changing their mind about a sex act and then being pressured into engaging in it is not consent.
Intimate Partner Violence
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is actual or threatened physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional abuse by a current or former spouse or partner. IPV does not require sexual intimacy between partners. IPV exists along a continuum, but several types of IPV can occur simultaneously. Behaviors on the IPV spectrum include:
- Physical Violence: when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner with physical force.
- Sexual Violence: forcing a partner to take part in a sex act when the partner does not consent.
- Stalking: repeated, unwanted attention and contact that causes fear or concern for someone’s safety.
- Psychological Aggression: the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with intent to emotionally or mentally harm or exert control over another person
Any situation in which you are forced to participate in a degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even with a partner with whom you have had consensual sex, is rape, and people with abusive partners are at a higher risk of being seriously injured or killed.
Sexual Assault Statistics
- Anyone can be a survivor of rape, sexual assault, or intimate partner violence. 33.5% of multiracial women, 27% of American Indian and Alaska Native women, 15% of Latina women, 22% of Black women, and 19% of white women have been raped. The LGBTQ+ community and people with disabilities are also uniquely vulnerable. (Source)
- 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while they are in college. (Source)
- 43% of college women who are dating report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors.
- 85-90% of college women who report sexual assault know their attacker and 1/2 of assaults occur on a date. Of female survivors, more than half are assaulted by a current/former partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance. 52% of men and boys report being raped by an acquaintance and 15% by a stranger.
- Sexual offenders are often serial offenders. One study found that of men who admitted to committing or attempting rape, 63% said they committed an average of six rapes each.
- Alcohol is the most frequently used weapon in sexual assaults.
- 46.4% of lesbians, 74.9% of bisexual women, and 43.3% of heterosexual women reported sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes, and 40.2% of gay men, 47.4% of bisexual men, and 20.8% of heterosexual men reported sexual violence other than rape during their lifetime. (Source)
If Someone You Know is Assaulted…
What is Helpful?
- Give them options. When a person is assaulted, their power and control is taken away. Give them control. Listen to them and respect their wishes.
- Tell them it’s not their fault.
- Ask before you hug or touch them. After experiencing a physical assault, they might not want to be touched.
- Keep their information private.
- Provide resources for counseling and medical care, including emergency contraception. Survivors have a right to a rape kit and exam by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, but it is advisable to do so immediately but no later than 72 hours after the crime.
What is Harmful?
- Asking the survivor pointed questions. (“What were you wearing?” or “Why did you get that drunk?”)
- Forcing the survivor to report the crime, seek medical attention, or tell their parents.
- Hugging or touching without permission.
- Confronting an attacker. This may endanger a survivor.
- Asking the survivor to relive details of the assault.
What’s Required of Your College or University
The Jeanne Clery Act
The Clery Act, a federal law passed in 1990, requires all colleges receiving federal funding to report crime statistics for incidents occurring on campus, in areas immediately next to the campus, and at some non campus facilities (i.e. an off-campus Greek house). Schools must publish incidents reported to a campus security authority or local police agency in publicly available, annual crime reports and alert the campus of known public safety risks. Schools that fail to comply face a fine of $35,000 per violation.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination in education programs or activities that receive federal funding. It requires universities to remedy and prevent sexual violence, including sexual assault and harassment. Title IX legally obligates schools to investigate sexual and gender-based violence and requires that each school have an established procedure for handling allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and rape. In addition, Title IX obligates schools to take steps to protect the complainant and ensure their safety, including, if appropriate, issuing “no contact” orders prohibiting accused attackers from contacting survivors. The school must also ensure that survivors are aware of any available resources and that all complainants are protected from retaliation. Under the law, every school must have a Title IX coordinator who oversees all Title IX complaints and who can identify and address any patterns or systemic problems revealed by the complaints.
Campus SaVE Act
Congress passed the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, a provision of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization, in March of 2013. Campus SaVE strengthens Title IX by requiring schools to create prevention programs and clarifying schools’ obligation to make survivors aware of their reporting options. Campus SaVE also strengthened the Clery Act by broadening the range of reportable crimes to include domestic and dating violence, stalking, hate crimes, and four categories of sexual assault: rape, fondling, incest, and statutory rape. After the Campus SaVE Act was passed, the Obama Administration issued new rules which went into effect in July 2015, that clarify the rights of survivors and the responsibilities of schools to provide information on relevant disciplinary proceedings, possible sanctions for sexual misconduct, and resources available to survivors.
Changes in Federal Policy
The Department of Education, under the Obama Administration, put forth in April 2011 a Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violence and, in April 2014, a separate Title IX guidance document that advanced protections for victims of sexual violence on campus. Included in these protections were the 60-day guideline for resolving investigations as well as a preponderance of the evidence standard of proof.
In 2017, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded these Title IX guidance documents and published new interim guidance. This guidance allows schools to impose a clear and convincing evidence standard to grievance procedures, basically giving the alleged perpetrator, and the perpetrator only, the presumption of truth. The interim guidance also allows schools to give the perpetrator, and only the perpetrator, the ability to appeal a finding. In addition, the Department will allow schools to mediate all Title IX disputes, including cases of sexual assault, essentially forcing survivors to “work it out” with their alleged perpetrator. However, schools are not obligated to follow a clear and convincing evidence standard and can still choose to use the preponderance of the evidence standard, which is the standard of proof used in civil lawsuits.