Working with students to enhance their schools' sexual assault policies can sometimes be trying and emotionally draining but it is certainly eye opening and, above all else, fulfilling. As the epidemic of campus sexual violence has taken the national spotlight, Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER) has been inspired by the tireless work of anti-rape student activists. While this issue isn't new, it is pressing and students all over the country are frustrated by the failures of their administrators and college sexual assault policies. To combat the red tape and lack of transparency, student activists have called on their peers, allied faculty members, the federal government, and organizations like SAFER to speak out in support of survivors and demand stronger, survivor-oriented college sexual assault policies.
Since SAFER's founding, we have worked side-by-side with students to strengthen their school's sexual assault policies because we know that students' voices are absolutely essential to the community and can create real and lasting change.
As advocates, we know first-hand the numerous opportunities that exist for colleges and universities to strengthen their sexual assault policies. Last October, SAFER, in partnership with V-Day, published the findings of our Campus Accountability Project. Through the creation of an online assessment tool, SAFER and V-Day called on college students to submit their institution's formal and informal sexual assault policies and assess their strength across five domains: survivor resources, educational programming, safety initiatives, formal policy highlights, and compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, popularly known as the Clery Act.
Students nationwide use the tool to check out policies that other schools have in place and compare their own policy against peer institutions. In one case, a group of students in Massachusetts used the database tool after being told the state prohibited inclusion of amnesty clauses in school sexual assault policies. By accessing the database, they were able to find other schools in the state whose policies included amnesty clauses, which allowed them to advocate for their own amnesty clause and to strengthen their school's policy.
The findings of the Campus Accountability Project speak volumes about the deficiencies of existing campus sexual assault policies.
- On average, the nearly 300 policies assessed in the database received a D+ grade with 80 percent of the policies receiving a grade of C or lower. No policy received a higher grade than B+.
- Nearly one-third of the policies did not fully comply with the Jeanne Clery Act -- compliance with which is required by federal law in order for colleges and universities to be eligible to participate in federal financial aid programs.
- Only 40 percent of the policies mentioned the employment of a full-time staff member dedicated to providing sexual assault prevention and education programming for students.
- Less than one in five policies provided amnesty clauses for underage survivors who were drinking or survivors who were using other drugs at the time of their assault.
- And, less than one-third of the policies assessed in the database stated that a survivor's dress and past sexual history may not be discussed during disciplinary proceedings.
While these policy shortcomings are undoubtedly problematic, they also create opportunities for administrators to centralize student needs in the reform of their institution's sexual assault policy. By holding open forums to obtain student input or by inviting anti-rape student activists to co-author new or reformed policies, administrators can better incorporate the needs of students into formal policy. There is no one-size-fits-all sexual assault policy for colleges and universities to adhere to, but speaking with student activists about the ways they believe comprehensive sexual assault prevention and survivor support could be achieved in their community is the single most important step administrators can take to create impactful sexual violence policies.
What does it look like for campuses to have comprehensive, survivor-oriented sexual assault policies? There are key steps to creating safer campuses:
- Provide free emergency contraception to sexual assault survivors via the institution's health center;
- Increase primary prevention efforts and create more opportunities for students to engage meaningfully in primary prevention activities like bystander intervention training;
- Ensure policies are accessible. This means they should be easy to find on the school's website, readable, and comprehensive;
- Inclusion of amnesty clauses for survivors who may have been in violation of another school policy at the time of their assault;
- And, total compliance with the Jeanne Clery Act and Title IX to ensure accurate reporting of incidents of sexual violence on campus and the rights of survivors.
These practices will help colleges and universities to develop policies that center on student needs and challenge rape culture on their campus.
Several years ago, SAFER recast April as Sexual Assault ACTIVISM Month. Since then, we have heard from student activists all over the country about what they are doing to mobilize and engage for change in April and year-round, including ways to use new media to generate grassroots momentum.
Throughout the month, we are sharing activism tips for sexual assault prevention activists highlighting major activists' movements from the past year, and promoting the results of the Campus Accountability Project. As always, we urge students, parents, administrators and faculty to join together in an open and productive dialogue and work to end sexual violence on our campuses. Policy is prevention and prevention is power.
To learn more about SAFER, please visit our website www.safercampus.org.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about the NSVRC and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit theNational Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.