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February 13, 2014

Federal authorities, universities focus on sexual asault

By Mara Biggs

In January, President Obama created a task force of senior administration officials to work with colleges and universities on better policing and preventing rape and sexual assault.

One in five college students have been sexually assaulted, but only 12 percent of them file reports.

One in four American women are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.
Few offenders are prosecuted because victims fear biases and judgment of the judicial system.

Obama has given the task force 90 days to recommend the best practices for preventing and responding to assaults on campuses and to check that universities are complying with legal obligations.

The task force was also asked to propose raising awareness of colleges’ records on assaults and officials’ responses, and to see that federal authorities get involved when colleges do not properly confront and deal with assaults.

In 2013, only one forcible sex offense was reported on Cleveland State University’s campus.

Although there are few reported sexual assaults on campus, studies prove that sexual assault occurs epidemically off campus in the personal lives of students and staff.

Vice President Joe Biden, who won the passage of the Violence Against Women Act 20 years ago and was seated next to the president as he signed a memorandum creating the task force, had this to say:

“Our daughters, our sisters, our wives, our mothers, our grandmothers have every single right to expect to be free from violence and sexual abuse. No matter what she’s wearing, no matter whether she’s in a bar, in a dormitory, in the back seat of a car, on a street, drunk or sober — no man has a right to go beyond the word ‘no.’ And if she can’t consent, it also means no.”

The president said a priority is to encourage more men to intervene when they see an attack and to report assaults.

“Men have to take more responsibility – men have to intervene,” Vice President Biden added. “The measure of manhood is willingness to speak up and speak out, and begin to change the culture.”

Men are also victims of sexual assault. One in six men report being sexually assaulted.
Yulanda McCarty-Harris, director of the Office of Institutional Equity at Cleveland State, said “I believe the best prevention [for sexual assault] is training.”

McCarty-Harris reported that the Office of Institutional Equity is pushing to make sexual violence education part of the curriculum for the Introduction to University Life course (ASC 101), which is required for freshman.

McCarty-Harris said her department’s goals for the sexual violence education module of ASC 101, should it be implemented, are to teach students what consent truly is and what rape and sexual assault are by legal definitions.

She said that sexual assault “is not something to be mediated” -- that as a criminal offense, students must prevent a situation from reaching that point by understanding the culture of sexual violence and how to rise above it.

McCarty-Harris also said that she hopes the sexual violence education module will empower students to talk about these issues, which continue to silently plague America.