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What’s Happening With Sexual Assault and Dating Abuse On Our College Campuses?

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In the last few years, the issue of sexual assault and dating abuse on college campuses has gained overdue traction in the public sphere. From Columbia University’s Emma Sulkowiczcarrying her mattress in protest of the university’s handling of her sexual assault, to the increasing number of higher education institutions under investigation for TItle IX violations, we’re only seeing a glimpse of what’s really happening. So, what exactly is going on, and how can we change a culture that often views sexual assault as probable?

When you hear the term “Title IX,” you may initially think of women’s sports, or school funding. In fact, Title IX is shorthand for Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in a federally funded education program or activity. While many of its previous applications were related to sports equality, Title IX is essential when addressing harassment or violence at educational institutions, because it includes provisions related to how schools should handle sexual violence cases. So when you hear the phrase “Title IX violation,” what that means is that a college or university may have failed to handle those cases correctly.

Violence on college campuses is not a rare occurrence. One in five college women experience an attempted or completed sexual assault by the time they graduate -- and these are just the young women who report those experiences. Victim blaming acts questioning why young women were drinking, or chose to wear a certain outfit, in addition to the frequently rampant disbelief of these young women’s accounts, dissuade victims from coming forward about their experiences. Additionally, while society would like to perpetuate the myth that men can’t be raped, research shows that 1 in 4 men have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Challenges to the validity of a claim made by any person - of any gender identity - often frightens people into silence about what happened to them, limiting their access to help.

The issue however, doesn’t just stop at the acts of violence themselves. According to a year-long investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, students found “responsible” for sexual assault don’t often face punishment -- sometimes receiving no punishment -- from the school judicial system. Frequently, statistically more likely to experience anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain, in addition to having a higher likelihood of developing diabetes, eating disorders, substance abuse and attempting or considering suicide.

We’re experiencing an epidemic. The good news however, is that this disturbing cultural reality can be changed. Explore the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 2014 report for recommendations on how you can push campuses to more effectively address these issues.  You can also visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website and reach out to one of the many organizations across the country doing this work, to see how you can help. For information on teen dating violence, interventions, and preventative measures, find out more at teendvmonth.org.