Survey Says? Strengthen Campus SaVE Act

Posted on 28 September 2015 |

You’ve seen the recent survey results on college sexual assault?

Whether you’re looking at the Rutgers survey released in early September or the Association of American Universities (AAU) survey released later in the month, both sets of numbers tell a story.

We’ve got more work to do for campus safety.

Rutgers found that 1 in 5 female students had experienced “unwanted sexual contact” since they arrived on campus. Earlier this year, the University of Michigan reported similar findings – 22% of their female students reported sexual misconduct.

The AAU study didn’t look at just one campus. Instead, they took a sweeping look at sexual behavior across 27 of the nation’s top universities, drawing responses from 150,000 students. What they found proves Rutgers and U. of M. to represent an average “business as usual” experience. (The 27-university average prevalence of sexual assault for undergrad college women is 23%.)

Following the release of each of these reports, various stakeholders dissect the survey methodology, response rates, and semantics, like how broadly “sexual violence” is defined. The Washington Post offers a thorough review of the AAU report, school by school. They also provide a link to the pdf of the full, almost-300-page report.

“Get Moving to Reach Our Students”

Richard Edwards, chancellor of Rutgers New Brunswick, speaking with Tovia Smith of NPR, said that the 1 in 5 number “gave us a sense that we really had to be proactive. We had to really get moving to reach our students.”

And they did. They’ve rewritten their campus sexual assault policies for affirmative consent and kicked off a new awareness campaign, “The Revolution Starts Here. End Sexual Violence Now.” (You can view the campaign trailer on YouTube.) As part of this campaign, students are now expected to complete a University sexual assault awareness and education initiative, called "Not Anymore."

States bolster VAWA legislation with some of their own.

"Campus sexual assault is an all-hands-on-deck epidemic in America."
Nancy Pelosi, United States House Democratic Leader

While forward-thinking schools like Rutgers are kicking off and revamping their own campus sexual safety programs, several states are enacting or considering new legislation to bolster federal-level Clery Act provisions.

New York Says “Enough is Enough,” #EiEnough

New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed his “Enough is Enough” legislation into effect over the summer, calling it “the most aggressive policy in the nation to fight against sexual assault on college campuses.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who helped champion the bill, was on hand to celebrate its signing.

Less than a month before the law went into effect, state officials announced steps they were taking to implement it, like a new victims’ unit staffed by a dozen State Police investigators to focus on campus rape cases.

Professionals who work with these issues daily seem to be pleased with the new law. As Stephanie Nilva, executive director of the domestic violence prevention group Day One, tells Nia Hamm of Public News Service – NY,

"I am really impressed that the governor, in passing this bill, first of all, not only focused on this important issue, got the bill passed, but also put money behind it - money not just for the law enforcement, but also for the community-based organizations."

Of course, New York wasn’t the first state to get here.

Out California Way, “Yes Means Yes”

Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown signed affirmative consent into law for all colleges and universities that accept financial aid from the state. According to USA Today, “the definition of consent under the bill requires "an affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision" by each party to engage in sexual activity.”

Further, the bill requires all California post-secondary schools to adopt a “victim-centered” approach to sexual assault response policies and to institute comprehensive awareness and prevention programs.

Back-to-School Affirmative Consent Bill in Michigan

Two Michigan state legislators, Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr. (D-Meridian Twp.) and Rep. Tom Cochran (D-Mason), have proposed Senate Bill 512, dubbed the “Yes Means Yes” bill, with the goal that teaching kids early will prevent assault when they get to college.

The Executive Director for the state’s Coalition of End Domestic Sexual Violence, Kathy Hagenian says, "Bills like this in and of itself can't end sexual violence but it can be a very positive first step in changing the culture and the norms."

Other Forward-Thinking Schools:

Doing More than Check the Compliance Box

Prior to the start of the fall semester, schools across the country revised their sexual misconduct policies and adopted new “Yes Means Yes”-style guidelines.

For instance, Texas A&M University now defines affirmative consent as “clear, voluntary and positive verbal or non-verbal communication that all participants have agreed to the sexual activity." Consent needs to be given "prior to or at the same time as the sexual activity" and must be ongoing throughout.

The University of Minnesota replaced their vague and hard-to-enforce policy of “mutually understood” consent with a clearer definition of affirmative consent, that requires active signals from the participants, not just the absence of objections.

What is your school doing? Are you in a state that has already legislated an affirmative consent policy like New York and California? Or are you somewhere that it’s still being debated? We’d love to know in the comments below.


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