Posted: 10:16 pm Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

1 in 5 women undergrads sexually assaulted: Senators introduce new bill to help 

By Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill to hold colleges and universities more accountable to sexual assault victims.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that about 19 percent of undergraduate  woman have been victims of sexual assault. And that number is believed to be under-reported because of the nature of the crime.

From the Associated Press: 

Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., led the effort, with lawmakers from both parties saying they have heard too many stories of campus assault and bungled cases. More than a half dozen senators stood with campus sexual assault victims on Capitol Hill as they announced the legislation.

At least two senators — Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Mark Warner, D-Va. — said that as fathers of college-age daughters, they want campuses to track the problem more effectively.

“There is no reason or excuse to demean, dismiss or deny the problem, and accountability has come,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Added Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa: “Sometimes a victim is treated worse than the person who committed the crime.”

The action on Capitol Hill further escalates the dialogue in Washington on an issue long handled locally. Earlier this year, a White House task force on campus sexual assault recommended a series of actions schools should take, and the Education Department took the unprecedented step of releasing the names of schools facing federal investigation under Title IX for the way they handle sexual abuse allegations.

So here is what the law would do:

From USA Today:

“A key provision would require colleges to conduct an annual, anonymous survey in which students would be asked about their experiences with sexual assault on campus. Colleges would be required to publish the results online “so that parents and high school students can make an informed choice when comparing universities,” a summary of the bill says.

The proposal would toughen sanctions against colleges that fail to report sexual assault crimes as required by federal law, raising the penalty from $35,000 per violation to $150,000 per violation. It also would fine schools up to 1% of their operating budgets if they fail to investigate reports of sexual assault on their campuses.

The idea is to “flip the incentives that currently reward (colleges for) keeping sexual assault in the shadows,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., one of the bill’s eight sponsors. “We will not allow these crimes to be swept under the rug any longer.”…

“McCaskill, chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, earlier this month released a survey of a national sample of 236 colleges and universities that found that 41% had conducted no investigations of alleged sexual assaults over the past five years, even though some of the schools had reported sexual violence incidents during that time to the Department of Education.

From AP: 

“This bill would require campuses to designate advocates who would confidentially discuss available options with victims and to develop an agreement with local law enforcement over how such cases are handled. It would also increase penalties for universities that did not comply.

To encourage victims to come forward, the bill stipulates that schools will no longer be allowed to sanction a student who reveals a violation, such as underage drinking, in “good faith.” It also would require schools to survey their students to learn more about the scope of the problem and to use one uniform process for campus disciplinary proceedings, not singling out groups such as athletic departments to independently handle such cases.

So what do you think: Do you believe the CDC number of 19 percent assaulted? Does that worry you to send your daughter off to college? Have you discussed sexual assault with your daughter in high school or before heading off to college? Do you think the colleges are doing enough now or turning a blind eye? Do you think these measures will help? 


Sexual assault . . . sigh. Most people consider it rape, but in truth, "sexual asault" is defined so broadly that someone brushing against you in a line and bumping up against your chest is guilty of "assault" if you convince yourself they were secretly trying to cop a feel. Definition, per the National Center for the Victims of Crime:  "Sexual assault takes many forms including attacks such as rape or attempted rape, as well as any unwanted sexual contact or threats. Usually a sexual assault occurs when someone touches any part of another person's body in a sexual way, even through clothes, without that person's consent."

What troubles me is the huge role that alcohol plays in so many of these episodes.  I have sent both a young woman and a young man to college.  For the daughter, of course I worried about assault - pretty, outgoing, vivacious, and sometimes a little too trusting. But  I also worried about the son -- tall, strong, broad-shouldered -- being accused of assault by some crazy girl after an evening in which both had one too many drinks. It's funny, but we automatically feel that the "poor girl" who is worse for wear from alcohol isn't responsible for her actions -- and yet men are held to a higher standard, and while being equally inebriated, they are expected to be far more responsible. Personally, I find that just a touch demeaning that a woman shouldn't be held equally responsible for her actions. "Did you have sex?"  "Yes, but she seemed into it -- she was the one taking off her top." "Was she drunk?"  "Yes -- we both probably were."  "RAPE!" 

So -- a girl meets a guy at a mixer.  Both of them get a little loaded -- they both gradually start feeling irresistable, attractive and witty, and are flirting madly -- the touch on the arm, brushing up against the other, the arm around the shoulder, dancing and grinding to the music, a little kissing . . . one thing leads to another, and sometimes, when they wake up with a hangover and realize that hey, s/he doesn't even remember their name from the night before, and isn't returning calls or texts -- it gets rationalized and moves in the mind from being consensual to accidental. To get rationalized, the victim, in their head, mentally rescinds 'permission', or even convinces themselves that they never really gave permission in the first place. There's a lot of sexual politics wrapped up in these scenarios, too, between girls being told on one hand that they are adults and have the right to sexual freedom without being judged -- and judging themselves by often ingrained values that "nice girls don't get drunk and screw." About the only way a young woman can still consider herself a 'nice' girl in this case is by convincing herself that it wasn't her 'fault' -- it was someone else's. Spread the blame around.

I would NOT want the job of campus liaison to monitor sexual assault reports, and sorting out consensual sex that somehow turns into assault. Since alcohol seems to play such a large part in this, how about teaching both girls and boys about safe and responsible drinking -- never accept a drink you didn't see poured, never leave your drink unattended, etc.  Using the 'buddy' system when going out and looking out for each other. Know your limit. "No means no, not 'maybe'" -- if a girl (or a guy) says no, then STOP (and even then, it might be too late, per the definition above.) Etc. 

All colleges want to provide a safe environment where parents feel comfortable sending their kids. Are colleges just an extension of the nanny state? Hardly -- as they are quick to tell you, "these are young adults," and as a parent, you can't even see their grades without their permission, no matter who writes the check. And yet the school is somehow held responsible for poor choices and decisions made by its students. During the first week of her senior year, my daughter was shaking her head at all the tearful freshmen girls, dressed to kill (sure sign of a freshman, btw, upper classmen are over the whole "dress to impress" thing) and sobbing on the street benches in front of the Athens bars as they are handcuffed to the bench with zip-ties after being arrested for using fake ID's to try to obtain a drink at the bars. This is the college's fault? (How about THAT for a phone call home your second night at college?)  But I suspect there is a LOT of confusion over what defines assault.  Violence that result in bruises, swelling, loose teeth, black eyes and bleeding, or that is coerced by force or drugs -- that's a pretty easy call (hmm, do you want to call alcohol a drug?  What if they were BOTH sloshed?)  But the girl who is furious because the guy she had sex with last week is seeing someone else and only vaguely remembers her?  Is that assault?  By definition - yes.  (Duke lacrosse team, anyone?)

But these are conversations that you have with your children - both male and female - throughout their childhood teenage years, not just the week before you send them off to college - issues such as personal responsibility and making good decisions, respect for oneself and others, peer pressure, etc. College is a heady experience -- but with new freedoms come new responsibilities. I'm not quite sure how surveys are going to interrupt the potent mix of alcohol abuse and hormones, and I'm not sure what colleges are supposed to do to stop it if the parents couldn't. 


Sexual assault has been happening since women have been going to co-ed colleges and parting. Hormones and freedom are the main causes. Freedom from parents, to make their on choices, drinking and drug use. A percentage of males are sexual predators, how society stops them is what needs to be worked on. Some girls find freedom too hot to handle and get into bad situations. Drunk hormone filled 19yr old boys take advantage of drunk girls and get charged with rape. In a perfect world both would be responsible for their actions. The girls need to travel in packs and protect each other. The colleges cannot monitor off campus parties, all they can do is give the students information about sexual assault. Parents teach your children.  


How about the Senators do something about teaching the men not to rape?


Talking about this issue has to start before high school. You need to be able to communicate with your children, on an age appropriate level, as soon as possible.

Yes, I believe the CDC number at 19%. I believe the current numbers on people being a victim of sexual crime are 1 in 4 for girls and 1 in 6 for boys. It starts earlier than college.

I'm glad they're wanting to do something at the college level. I have a friend who was sexually assaulted at a party her freshman year of college. She never told anyone.


@RealKat Can that be taught?  I'd have thought someone would have take up that exercise at the dawn of time.  While they're at it, maybe they can work on something that will teach people not to murder as well.