One in four college-age women nationwide will be the victim of rape or attempted rape by the time they graduate. This statistic, according to a 2010 Department of Justice finding, along with numerous individual cases of campus inaction in the face of sexual assault, has prompted colleges and universities across America to reexamine their sexual assault policies.
For instance, Cornell University has decided to take a proactive approach in how it investigates complaints made by its students. Sexual assault cases are no longer under the purview of the school’s Campus Code of Conduct but rather a judicial administrator who handles each case in the same manner as if a member of the school’s faculty or staff were the victim. As a result, complaints brought forth that deal with sexual assault are considered more likely than not to be true.
This change, as recommended by the Department of Education in 2011, seeks to prevent the discouragement of students from coming forward with complaints. As stipulated in Title IX, the federal gender equity law, all colleges should be using this new standard in all sexual assault and harassment cases.
Emerson College, located in Boston, has also begun to revamp its sexual assault and harassment response policies. After college administrators took months to begin investigating then-sophomore Sarah Tedesco’s sexual assault, which took place in October 2012, Tedesco and other students decided to file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
In an interview, Tedesco told The Gavel that it took a “complaint for them to spur into action.” After the federal investigation was launched, Emerson College has taken steps to better address reported sexual assaults with its students. Emerson's administration has begun interviewing potential candidates to fill the position of an on-campus sexual assault advocate; a resource that many students consider to be sorely needed.
At Emerson, the addition of a Title IX Coordinator to the staff is a welcome change. “Right now we’re really happy with the new position. That is going to be great,” says Tedesco.
Boston College’s Title IX Coordinator is Katherine O’Dair, the Executive Director for the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs. Her office is located in Maloney Hall 260. O'Dair and her office work to ensure that, “appropriate measures are taken to identify and address any patterns or systemic problems that may contribute to a hostile environment for students,” at BC.
Nationwide, students are banding together to compel their respective colleges and universities to address this crisis. The group, Know Your IX, is a part of a campaign “that aims to educate all college students in the U.S. about their rights under Title IX.” Sarah Tedesco, other survivors, and advocates hope that Know Your IX becomes a key resource for other college students who are seeking out information about their guaranteed rights under Title IX.
In addition to grassroots student movements and changes in college administrative policy, federal action has also sought to address this problem. The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, or SaVE, requires that incidents of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking be annually made public by colleges and universities.
As Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER) states, “all students have the right to a safe campus, free of sexual violence.” Through the work of Know Your IX, concerned administrators, and advocates, they are closer to their goal.
At Boston College, any student affected by sexual assault or harassment can call the Sexual Assault Network (SANet), a 24/7 hotline that can provide professional support, medical evaluation and contact law enforcement. SANet can be reach any time at (617) 552-2211.Featured image via Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault/Facebook.