The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released its first report yesterday, giving colleges and universities recommendations on how to better measure the prevalence of sexual assault on their campuses, improve their prevention strategies, and step up the services they provide to survivors.
Concern about campus-based sexual violence reached a feverish pitch in 2014: amid several media stories about the epidemic, the White House reports that one in five women are sexually assaulted while in college. Moreover, the number of sexual assault-related Title IX complaints received by the Office of Civil Rights through April has already surpassed the total for 2013, according to USA Today.
The White House report – which announces the launch of Notalone.gov, a Web resource for survivors of sexual violence – comes three months after President Barack Obama created the task force to address American campuses’ sexual assault problem, which he has called “an affront to our basic decency and humanity.” It also comes a month after CGI University (CGI U) 2014, where college students demonstrated a growing interest in addressing the epidemic. An increasing number of these Millennials are focusing their Commitments to Action on consent – what it means and why it's vital.
In an op-ed for Fusion last month, University of California, Santa Barbara student Hannah Brown clears up any possible confusion about consent's definition: “a firm and sober ‘yes’ from all parties before (and while) engaging in a sexual act.” At CGI U 2014, Brown made a commitment to help ensure that California high school students have a solid grasp of this definition before it’s too late. “I don’t have all the answers,” she writes in the op-ed, “but I know that attitudes about consensual sex in college are molded before the acceptance letter comes in the mail. It’s time to take a closer look at what’s being taught – and just as importantly, not being taught – in secondary schools.”
Also championing that “firm and sober yes,” Colby College senior Jonathan Kalin created Party with Consent at CGI U 2013. His commitment works to curb campus assaults by throwing parties and selling merchandise that promote the “coolness” of obtaining consent before engaging in sexual activity. After a successful first year, Kalin returned to CGI U in March to keep the commitment's momentum going: the philosophy major aims to expand his social movement to individual chapters on 50 different campuses.
The White House report acknowledges something that many young people know all too well: that while some students experience forcible violence, others are subject to incapacitated assault. “They are sexually abused while drugged, drunk, passed out, or otherwise incapacitated,” the report states. Recognizing that such factors compound and complicate the trauma experienced by survivors, Arizona State University students Jaclyn Raymond and Kay Hofland are developing a medical amnesty policy for all Arizona public institutions. Through their commitment, they aim to ensure students who were intoxicated at the time of their assault can seek help without fear of legal repercussions.
While much work remains to eradicate sexual assault on college campuses, these CGI U commitments – and others like them – reflect the resolve of young people to take an active role in promoting consent, supporting survivors, and making the world pay attention. To learn more about the White House task force’s suggestions for protecting students from sexual violence in college, you can read the full report.