White House Sexual Assault Task Force Issues Recommendations
May 5, 2014
One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, and although there are far fewer statistics available for men, they are also victims of campus sexual violence. In an effort to combat sexual assault, the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault issued its first report titled, "Not Alone" on April 29, 2014. The report identifies steps campuses can take to keep students safe and decrease incidents of violence. It also explains how federal law enforcement agencies are working to increase transparency and information sharing.
Recommendations and guidance include:
Campus sexual assaults go largely unreported. According to the report, only 2 percent of rape survivors who were incapacitated and 13 percent of forcible rape survivors report the crime to campus officials or local law enforcement. Since reports to authorities are not an accurate indicator of violence, the Task Force is suggesting yearly campus climate surveys. These surveys can provide a more accurate idea of how often sexual assaults occur on campus, test students' attitudes and awareness, and provide schools with a more accurate tool for finding solutions. The Task Force provided a toolkit for developing surveys and has asked schools to voluntarily conduct a survey during the winter or spring semester of 2015. The Task Force is currently exploring legislative or administrative options that will require colleges and universities to conduct a campus climate survey in 2016.
During listening sessions with more than 1,000 survivors of sexual assault, student activists and parents, bystander intervention was identified as one of the most promising prevention strategies. Both men and women are encouraged to intervene if someone is at risk, but the White House recently released a Public Service Announcement to encourage men to become allies in the fight against sexual assault on campus.
Victims of assault need to know they have a safe and confidential place to report a crime. The Task Force suggests that schools identify trained, confidential victim advocates who can provide emergency and ongoing support. A sample reporting and confidentiality protocol is provided for colleges and universities to use as a guide in creating a similar document tailored for their campuses.
In addition, the Task Force recommends that colleges and universities:
- Develop a comprehensive sexual misconduct policy. The Task Force has created a checklist for higher education institutions to utilize.
- Provide training for school officials. The Justice Department will develop new training programs for campus officials and launch a technical assistance program. The Department of Education will develop training materials for campus health center staff.
- Improve investigative and adjudicative protocols. The Justice Department will begin reviewing and evaluating different models to identify the most useful ones.
- Forge partnerships with community resources. Rape crisis centers, for example, are invaluable resources to help schools serve students. The Task Force has provided a sample Memorandum of Understanding for institutions to use as a guide in drafting language for these partnerships.
Federal Enforcement Efforts
The Task Force plans to increase and strengthen the efforts of federal agencies and the administration is committed to making federal enforcement efforts transparent and resources more readily available.
- The Not Alone Web site provides students and schools with resources, a clear explanation of their rights, and information on how to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Justice Department.
- The Department of Education is providing clarification on schools' obligations under Title IX. Three years after it released its Dear Colleague letter, OCR issued FAQs to help schools better understand their rights and responsibilities related to sexual violence.
The report was released the same week OCR named 55 colleges and universities under investigation for their handling of sexual violence complaints. "We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights," said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.
Last month negotiators reached consensus on the Violence Against Women Act rules. Schools will be expected to comply with changes made to annual security reporting and establish effective statements of policy and awareness programs. Proposed rules will be published in the Federal Register soon.
NACUBO has provided a comprehensive list of resources related to sexual violence on campus and new regulations under the Violence Against Women Act.
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