Sexual assault on college campuses is nothing new. However, the issue has only recently dominated national news, making conversation unavoidable. Fueled by years of ignored pleas for help and rejected appeals for justice, sentiments on college campuses have evolved from hushed frustration to resounding anger. To preserve image, American universities have been quietly complicit in the crisis and students should no longer stand for sluggish action. Change must come, with or without government support.
The May 2014 federal recommendations urge colleges to conduct anonymous surveys on sexual assault and adopt stricter policies to help victims. While well-intended, the effort will fail without colleges’ strong support. If universities do not cooperate, the federal recommendations cannot evolve into sustainable plans for action. True reform must come from the university level, which NYU should introduce in the 2014-15 school year. Rutgers University and Florida Gulf Coast University, schools with prior sexual assault cases, have made steps in the right direction. Rutgers will include a sexual assault simulation for students during orientation and FGCU will offer education on sexual assault to supplement alcohol education. Welcome Week and subsequent weeks are an ideal time to offer similar guidance to NYU freshmen beyond what is usually mentioned in the annual Reality Show.
In developing this program, NYU should aim to confront obstacles that regularly hinder universities’ efforts. While the federal recommendations make a notable effort, colleges must meet them halfway. An ideal program would explain absolute consent to students and further apply it to settings involving acquaintance rape, drugs and alcohol. Students need to be explicitly informed about precautionary measures beyond what is learned through AlcoholEdu. Students must join the fight with bystander intervention, and NYU must make clear that effective prevention is contingent on both male and female students sharing responsibility for campus safety. These education efforts, coupled with other means, could improve campus safety for students and faculty alike.
Reform also rests on implicit messaging. College environments must be hospitable to victims rather than hostile. Sexual assault complaints should be met with appropriate referrals for support and thorough examination of options, not unsuitable adjudication that leaves students vulnerable to their attackers. The consequences of being sexually assaulted are devastating. Rape survivors are 13 times more likely to attempt suicide than people who have not been raped. Estimates indicate that 40 percent develop sexually transmitted infections as a result of the attack and 80 percent suffer chronic psychological and physical problems over time. The consequences of raping, in contrast, are minimal — 97 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail. It is time universities increased sexual assault education and resources as a duty to students, not a federally mandated inconvenience. NYU can lead the way.
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