Sexual assault, specifically sexual assault on college campuses, has been in the media a lot recently. People, authorities, lawmakers, school administrations, students, and activists alike have been actively and diligently moving the conversation forward to try to combat what is a very serious problem. Everyone knows the statistic that 1 in 4 women will be a victim of sexual assault during her tenure at college. The time for denying this epidemic or trying to sweep it under the rug has long since passed, and thankfully, schools are responding.
In large response to over 200 colleges and universities being placed under investigation for Title IX violations, specifically
the handling of sexual misconduct complaints, there is a large push to mandate any and all employees report knowledge of a sexual assault allegation to the appropriate authority at their school. A lot of people take this as a step forward, specifically a way to try and curb the very real issues of schools under-reporting incidents of sexual assault. But does this new impending rule actually help the victims? More importantly, are we sure it doesn’t hurt them?
Cosmopolitan recently ran an article written by Treva Lindsey. In the article, the author touched on a lot of potential problems that could stem from adopting this type of legislature at universities. A collegiate faculty member, Lindsey touches on the fact that it would “disturb [her] to know that if a student confided in [her], [she] would be required to break a student’s confidence.” Disclosing being the victim of any sort of crime is hard, but disclosing that you were the victim of sexual assault is exponentially more difficult. In order for students to try to get the help they need following an assault, it’s important to create an environment where their trust isn’t violated based on a mandate.
Another, more important point the author brings up is that by taking away a student’s ability to report, it can exasperate feelings of powerlessness and helplessness they may already be feeling. Lindsey notes that “sexual assault and rape are acts of power, control, and domination.” Many survivors feel a loss of power after the fact so to further diminish them by taking away their right and ability of whether or not to formally report almost certainly will cause more harm than good. Don’t believe me? In the academic paper, Social Reactions to Disclosure of Sexual Victimization and Adjustment Among Survivors of Sexual Assault, the authors, Lindsay M. Orchowski, Amy S. United, and Christine A. Gidycz, found that by excluding survivors from the decision-making process, especially the decision to report, can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
Lastly, the author questions whether this mandate does anything to actually stop assault or if it is just palliative after an assault has occurred. She likens the mandate to “putting a Band-Aid on a potentially fatal gunshot wound.” Yes, the mandate tries to tackle the problem of institutions under-reporting crimes, but wouldn’t it be better to stop the problem at the source? Shouldn’t we focus on making campuses safer and educating our children not to rape, instead of trying to figure out how to deal with victims of rape? I understand that it’s a fool’s hope to ever think that we can completely eradicate sexual assault anywhere, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for to think we should be able to drastically decrease 1 in 4 assault ratio on campuses we currently have.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times — the prevalence of campus sexual assault is a huge problem. Changing and combating this epidemic is not going to happen overnight, it’s going to be a long process with incremental change and a few missteps. I feel this new mandate may be one of those missteps. I can appreciate that this problem is being taken seriously and that schools are trying to do the right thing, but this mandate seems to lose sight of the people it’s trying to help. The mandate is a response to an investigation in how schools have mishandled sexual misconduct in the past so now administrations are trying to make sure the schools aren’t liable in the future. The mandate so clearly loses track of the people it’s supposed to be helping, the survivors, by getting tied up in collegiate bureaucracy. What so many schools haven’t realized but need to is that what is best for a survivor may not be best for the school, and when their interests are at odds, the survivor needs to be put first. Always..
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