I remember in health class during my junior year of high school, my teacher put on “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary that described the prevalence of sexual assault cases on college campuses and the universities’ concealment of the cases in an attempt to maintain their reputations. This documentary stood as the retaliation for those universities’ wrongdoings and encouraged reform on college campuses. As I watched this movie with my classmates, fear, and anxiety resonated. I wondered how the university I chose to go to would handle my case if I experienced sexual violence. The documentary opened my eyes, causing me to pick a school that took sexual violence seriously and focused on the health and safety of its students.
I found my university prioritized my safety. The freshmen class learned about sexual violence through videos displayed at orientation on how to sight and respond to potential assaults. Students also took an online seminar on the definition and identification of sexual assaults before scheduling classes. However, how successful are universities’ attempts at preventing assaults and aiding the survivors with the help they need?
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 are at an elevated risk of experiencing sexual violence. It also states that 23.1% of the female undergraduate class and 5% of the male undergraduates undergo a form of sexual violence. Additionally, in a 2019 study conducted by the Association of American Universities, it said the rate of nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent rose from the association’s survey in 2015 by 3% for undergraduate women and 1.4% for undergraduate men. Meanwhile, the study done by the association showed an increase in student reports of their knowledge about their school’s definition of sexual assault and other sexual misconducts from 2015 to 2019.
Women on campuses will continue to have a fear of being harmed, no matter how often a university reinforces its policies and teaches its students about sexual violence. In today’s digital world, the thought to come forward and relive the trauma is daunting. This is especially so when the assault feels so confusing and unjustified. And it is the role of our universities to give survivors the support to move on and recover. The awareness of sexual assault is prevalent; therefore, no survivor should fear being ignored or rejected. Instead, they should feel equipped with the support of their university to inform others and overcome his or her trauma.
To me, there is no way to prevent future cases fully, but universities can find the best course of action to ensure that those who are victimized can get the help they need.
With the movement to better handle sexual violence cases, the United States’ education department released the revised Title IX on May 7 in hopes of granting more rights to those accused of sexual assaults. While the new rules level the playing field, they disable sexual misconduct survivors to seek help if the violence was online or off-campus—such as fraternity houses—where many cases occur. Furthermore, the rule allows for informal meetings too occur for cases of sexual assaults, and it reduces the universities’ obligation to act against sexual harassment. This rule is not as accommodating to survivors and their rights as many had hoped. Rather, it focuses more on the accused and restricts the schools’ responsibility for off-campus incidents, making students feel less comfortable to come forward.
When adopting the new Title IX regulations into the schools’ policy, it is now the universities’ opportunity to show that their students matter by adjusting to the misgivings of the law. The students should feel empowered to share their trauma and have the university’s undoubted support. Even though universities have the right to question the stories, clear evidence of the incident should not lead to the university’s suppression of the number of cases on campus. Instead, universities need to prioritize their efforts to thwart further assaults, convey their support for survivors to come forward, and establish a safer environment.
As the policy to handle sexual assaults on campuses continues to change, we, as college students and future leaders, should keep asking ourselves, “Do these regulations make us feel safer and supported?” If so, our society is heading in the right direction, but if not, then revisions will continue to establish a more reactive community.
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