In January, President Barack Obama and his administration formed a task force to discuss issues surrounding sexual assault prevention and awareness. The task force, Not Alone, published its recommendations and results in April. Subsequently, Sept. 19, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden publicly launched the “It’s On Us” campaign — an effort geared primarily toward raising awareness of sexual assault on college campuses and encouraging us, the students, to stop these crimes from occurring. While the campaign is admirable in its creation, the White House must provide students with tangible solutions, such as the Bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act, in order to actually initiate change.
Through partnerships that include the Big Ten conference and NCAA, the “It’s On Us” campaign advances into everyday campus life, infiltrating Facebook and becoming readily accessible to students across the nation. With 500 million users on Facebook alone, social media is a popular avenue through which many activist campaigns reach the public. According to a study done by Burson-Marsteller, a global public relations and communications firm, 33 out of 34 political advocacy groups use social media as a platform for change.
The executive branch is admirable in its attempt to create cultural change on college campuses through a web-based public service campaign. However, it will not be effective on its own. The “It’s On Us” campaign has been an informational movement thus far, but refrains from calling for any specific action. In order for social campaigns to work and for some sort of action to be initiated, a call to rise must be visibly present to the audience. This step is vital in transitioning the “It’s On Us” movement from the Internet to college campuses.
The University has officially joined Obama’s campaign to start the conversation about sexual assault in our community, along with nearly 200 other colleges across the country. This past summer our Central Student Government was invited to join the initiative and has been working in great strides to spread the word by working with various student organizations, such as I Will, a student-run campaign dedicated to preventing sexual assault, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, the University’s chapter of the National PanHellenic council, LSA Student Government and the Education Theatre Company. The “It’s On Us” campaign has made its way to Ann Arbor and has started what hopefully becomes a revolution, but leaves the question of what more can we do.
July 30, eight U.S. Senators proposed one of many solutions by unveiling a bipartisan bill to address the problem of sexual assault in colleges and universities. The bill, called the Bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act, aims to more effectively enforce the handling and prevention of sexual assault on campuses. With “It’s On Us” in full swing, voters must urge their senators to act on the bill as soon as possible in order to further ensure safety on college campuses.
This Bipartisan Campus and Accountability Safety Act requires colleges to designate Confidential Advisors who will coordinate support services and resources to survivors, ensure minimum training standards for on-campus personnel, follow a single disciplinary process to be used by the entire school and increase coordination with local law enforcement.
The bill will also create a standardized, anonymous survey to be conducted annually. These surveys will be published online and available to the general public. Though these data collection practices have been criticized for being biased, the goal of the surveys is to gauge the actual prevalence of sexual assault instead of just the officially reported number of incidents.
This particular stipulation in the bill will finally provide basic metrics to how well a school is handling sexual assault on campus. The anonymity may also encourage more survivors to come forward. According to the report published by Not Alone, “only 2 percent of incapacitated sexual assault survivors and 13 percent of forcible rape survivors report the crime to campus or local law enforcement.” Both the anonymity and the greater transparency of the surveys will hopefully alleviate this startlingly low report rate.
A final stipulation in the bill will create stiffer penalties for violations of both Title IX and the Clery Act. Title IX establishes penalties for discrimination based on sex in federally funded colleges while the Clery Act requires schools to keep and disclose all information about crime on or near campuses. Under the Bipartisan Campus Accountability Safety Act, schools who violate the act may suffer a fine of up to 1 percent of their operating budget. Similarly, penalties for the Clery Act will increase from $35,000 to $150,000 for each violation.
Previously, schools found to be in violation of the law were at risk of losing federal funding entirely, though no school has been issued this penalty yet. Totally revoking all federal funding from a school isn’t a realistic punishment, and the lack of any lesser punishment for schools makes for an ineffective deterrent. The penalties brought forth by this bill therefore act as a potentially more effective intermediary. This softer penalty may be enforced more frequently, incentivizing schools to better handle incidents of sexual assault.