The Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education issued a report Tuesday providing guidelines to assess the prevalence of sexual assault on American college campuses, which officials are hoping public and private colleges such as Boston University will implement to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex in their schools, outlawed under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
“For far too long, the incentives to prevent and respond to sexual violence have gone in the wrong direction at schools and on college campuses,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a Tuesday press release. “As interpreted and enforced by the department, Title IX and other federal laws are changing these incentives to put an end to rape-permissive cultures and campus cultures that tolerate sexual assault.”
The report and its guidelines, prepared by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, are intended to help universities prepare a survey that will assess both the frequency of sexual assaults occurring on campuses and students’ attitudes regarding the incidents.
The DOE will consider pursuing legislation to make such a survey mandatory by 2016, the report stated.
“It’s definitely a step forward, and it’s really encouraging to see that this will be something that is governmentally enforced and not just something that will be up to students telling administration that they care,” said Tori Dutcher-Brown, the public relations coordinator for BU’s Center for Gender, Sexuality & Activism.
Dutcher-Brown, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman, said it was important to realize that resources at BU for addressing sexual violence on campus have not always been available. The CGSA was established five years ago, and the BU Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center is only three years old, she said.
“There is a lot of student support, but there needs to be more,” she said. “[Students should] actively say, ‘This is something important, this is something I value, this is something I want to continue,’ because then the school will listen.”
The U.S. Department of Justice will begin to develop training programs for school officials, as well as campus and local police departments, to provide better treatment to survivors of sexual assaults, the report stated.
The DOE’s report also announced plans to describe to schools how they can establish programs on campus to promote bystander intervention in the event of a sexual assault.
Bystander training courses are available at BU through SARP, Dutcher-Brown said. Currently, CGSA volunteers receive bystander training from the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.
A sweeping federal program of this nature would benefit campuses across the nation, she said.
Dutcher-Brown also said one of the best ways BU can combat the issue of sexual violence on campus is by raising awareness of its causes.
“Education is the most important because most sexual assaults and rapes are perpetrated by people that the survivor knows,” she said. “There needs to be more attention put on education, because then people will know if they are crossing a line, if they are acting without consent, how to get out of those situations and how to receive justice for those situations.”
Victoria Genna, a junior in CAS, said the federal guidelines being provided to colleges will help ensure that investigations following cases of sexual assault are more rigorous.
“It’s definitely good if this is going to help with better response after the fact,” she said. “If someone commits a crime like that, they should be held accountable for it.”
College of Communication sophomore Allie Bouranova said while BU has adequate resources for handling issues of sexual violence, implementing some of the suggested guidelines from the report may also be helpful.
“Here at BU, we’re definitely better than a lot of schools [at dealing with issues of sexual assault],” she said. “Just with the SHS [Student Health Services] and all the programs they do, there’s such an active presence of sexual education, and a more open mindset.”
Stephanie Clark, a CAS sophomore, said BU could help prevent sexual assault cases by providing more education on the subject.
“We didn’t have to do any education module on how to recognize when a situation seems unsafe [or] what to do,” she said. “I could see it helping other students here or maybe other schools who don’t have the resources we do.”