The front page article by Lauren McGaughy in Friday’s Dallas Morning News, reporting that 15% of 28,000 female undergraduate students surveyed at thirteen University of Texas campuses have been raped, is eye-opening to me (March 24, 2017, P. A1). The catalyst for the story was the release of that figure by Texas Senator Joan Huffman, who has filed a bill to penalize faculty and staff who fail to report sexual assault on campuses with a misdemeanor and termination.
While there are many books about sexual assault, only a few are specifically targeted toward college campuses. The most recent that I found on Amazon.com is entitled The Hunting Ground: The Inside Story of Sexual Assault on American College Campuses by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering (Hot Books, 2016). That book is actually a follow-up to a film documentary that they produced.
Given the strong statistic above, and the apparent many incidences of these assaults that go unreported, perhaps it is time for more authors to use books as a medium to educate everyone about this crisis. Raising awareness is not the same as taking action, but it is the first step toward interventions.
One of our Creative Communication Network part-time facilitators, Carmen Coreas, recently wrote an article on LinkedIn about actions that colleges and universities could take to reduce incidences of sexual assault. Here are her comments:
Often, we hear about incidences of sexual assaults on college campuses. The problem is clear, but the solution remains both vague and unimplemented. In this article, I want to suggest three interventions that might make a difference.
Most sources indicate that while overall campus crime has decreased, the number of sexual assault incidences has increased. The U.S. Department of Education released a report showing that these assaults increased by more than 50% over a decade (source: http://time.com/2851844/number-of-campus-sex-crimes-reported-surges-by-50).
I think there are three things that colleges and universities can do:
1. Encourage women to participate in “buddy” systems. No woman should walk on a campus after dark alone. Each female student should be strongly encouraged to be with at least one other person, particularly when walking through parking lots, or passageways between buildings. If a woman feels uncomfortable or unsafe, and there is no one to walk with her, she should be able to call campus security, wait in a safe place, and have a representative escort her to her car. The probability of a sexual assault decreases significantly when there is more than one potential victim present. To enforce this, female students should be required to read and sign a form at registration that educates them about the “buddy” system, and indicate their awareness and acceptance to participate in the program.
2. Greatly improve campus security. Many parking lots and campus areas are very dimly lit, and in some cases, there is no lighting at all. These areas are prime for sexual assaults. The answer is, of course, to reduce or eliminate these areas entirely by installing not only more lights, but also, brighter lights. Campus police should routinely ride through the campus streets slowly on bicycles, carts, or cars, to discourage assaults. The “blue light” help boxes that appear on most campuses are great, but there should be at least twice as many of them.
3. Make it safe to report sexual assaults. Sources vary on the statistics, but it is clear that at least 60% of all sexual assaults on a college campus go unreported. This means that the victim carries the shame and impact of the assault, while the perpetrators go free. This is wrong. Anyone who is a victim should be treated with compassion, but assured that there is no downside or retaliation for reporting the incident. Campus police and attorneys should work with local police, private rape counseling centers, and other sources to ensure that the victim’s rights are protected, but also, to ensure that it is safe for her to press charges. Perpetrators should be brought to justice.
These three ideas will make a difference because: (1) the fewer women who are alone, the less the chance they will become targets for an assault, (2) the more secure the campus appears, the fewer perpetrators will test or challenge the system by attempting an assault, and (3) the more that assaults are made known, and the consequences made public, the less that a perpetrator will take the chance to do that.