April is generally known for the coming of spring and for DC residents, the first sight of bloom of cherry blossoms. But April also brings us another significant focus–Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This is a great time of the year to renew one’s commitment to activism, and what better way to do that than advocating for the eradication of sexual violence in our communities and on our campuses.
Aside from participating in awareness raising events, during this month we are encouraging every student from colleges and universities across the country to take your organizing efforts to next level by ensuring that your university has a comprehensive sexual assault policy, encourage reporting, and be the advocate to shift campus culture to a more sensitive space and ultimately change attitudes about sexual assault.
You may ask, how can this be done? Well before we begin, there’s a huge hurdle facing many young activists when addressing this problem–the lack of cooperation by school administrators and the re-victimization of sexual assault survivors on campuses. If the recent American University controversy, among many others, has shown us anything, its that more work needs to be done on the parts of universities to support and enhance safety precautions for female students.
A recent study done by the Center of Public Integrity found that majority of students who are sexually assaulted remain silent because of the impeding institutional barriers and practices of secrecy through judicial and disciplinary proceedings making the process of disclosure and reporting very difficult for victims. Also, there were many cases of off-record negotiations that even today contributes to the creation of a hostile environment on campus. Fifty percent of the students they interviewed claimed “they unsuccessfully sought criminal charges, and instead had to seek justice in closed, school-run proceedings that led to either light penalties or no punishment at all.” Leaving a survivor unsafe and unsupported. The research has also shown that “repeat offenders actually account for a significant number of sexual assaults on campus.” This poses a great threat to the safety of students for the sake of a university’s reputation.
Now that you know what barriers lie ahead, here’s what you can do to overcome them:
- The best place to start is by looking at other universities for examples of ways in which you can bring awareness to your campus and urge your administration to adopt a comprehensive sexual assault policy.
- A comprehensive sexual assault policy is most viable when there is a university-wide focus on prevention. Sadly, some universities are doing a very poor job in their preventive efforts, such as Valdosta State University in Georgia discussed in this blog post. So consider starting a sexual assault peer educators group or advocate for a sexual assault information and support center through your university’s women’s center, counseling center, or student health center.
- Align your student activist group with other national advocacy organizations that specifically work with reducing sexual assault on campus. Check out groups like Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER) and Men Can Stop Rape who have prevention programs specific to university campuses.
- Do you have a unique sexual assault program that you would like to launch, but unsure of where to get the funding? The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women provides grant opportunities for campus initiatives that seek to reduce sexual assault, rape, harassment, and stalking on campus.
- Lastly, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center has a great Campus Sexual Violence Resource list that will come in handy for all of your sexual violence awareness raising needs.
Take time this semester to begin discussing how you can make your campus a better and safer institution for all its students. If you have more ideas on how to eradicate sexual violence on campus, feel free to contact FMF’s Campus Team at [email protected].
This article was featured in our April 2010 monthly Choices eZine.