White House targets sexual assault on campus
The Obama administration announced Monday a new directive outlining schools' responsibilities when students bring complaints of sexual assault or sexual harassment on campus.
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The letter also recommends numerous educational steps that schools can take to prevent sexual violence and harassment, and gives specific suggestions for ways the school can help a victim feel safe and get counseling during an investigation.Skip to next paragraph
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“This will help schools immeasurably in understanding what their responsibilities are. There’s no more shooting in the dark,” says Lisa Maatz, director of public policy and government relations for the American Association of University Women. She notes that even though Title IX became law in 1972, this is the first time the Office of Civil Rights has come out with comprehensive policy on sexual violence. “It is a critical reminder, or wake-up call, for colleges and universities that this isn’t something that can be swept under the rug, and that is happening on their campuses.”
And not only on college campuses.
American high schools see nearly 4,000 reports of sexual battery and over 800 rapes and attempted rapes each year, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said at Monday's event. More than 1 in 10 high school girls are physically forced to have sex against their will by the time they graduate, he said.
“Every school would like to think it’s immune from sexual violence,” Secretary Duncan said, “but the facts suggest otherwise.”
In his speech, Duncan said the guidance was needed not just because of the instances of assaults, but from the many examples of how schools dealt with reports improperly, including placing gag orders on the victim, not taking a complaint seriously if alcohol is involved, or dragging out an investigation until the victim withdraws from the school.
“The misplaced sense of values and priorities in some of these cases is staggering,” he said. “We have to do better, and we have to do better now.”
Though the timing is coincidental, Monday's announcement comes on the heels of a complaint from students at Yale University that the school has failed to respond adequately to sexual assault and harassment claims, and the news on Friday that Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is launching an investigation.
Students claimed that Yale has failed to properly respond to both sexual harassment – including fraternity members holding up a sign saying “we love sluts” last fall, and chanting “no means yes” on campus – and to charges of sexual assault and attempted assault.
“When you have a university the caliber of Yale being called on the carpet for this … it’s a great illustration that this can happen to any campus that doesn’t address these issues,” says Ms. Maatz.