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May 8, 2014

In Our Opinion: Colleges must address sexual assault problem

Let’s get a few things clear regarding the national shame of sexual assaults on college students.

1) Whether the oft-quoted and much-questioned statistic of one in five students being victims of sexual assault is accurate is not important. Even one instance is too many.

2) It is never the victim’s fault. It doesn’t matter how she dresses or whether she drinks too much or whether she might have flirted.

3) Our legal system often puts victims who report these crimes under a second assault, having to reveal and defend their sexual history and relive a terrible moment in their lives.

4) Our colleges can and should do more to improve prevention efforts and increase penalties for those who commit assaults. Too often, assailants will be suspended for a single semester, while their victims are traumatized for their entire lives. 

5) While men are also assaulted, women constitute the overwhelming majority of victims. They have to be cognizant of the reality that not only strangers, but men they thought were friends or casual acquaintances, can become predators.

6) Knowing that the problem exists, women should be wary of becoming so drunk or high on drugs that they leave themselves vulnerable. A 2009 report by the National Institute of Justice said: “Almost 20 percent of the seniors experienced some type of sexual assault since entering college, with 6.9 percent experiencing physically forced sexual assault and 16.0 percent experiencing incapacitated sexual assault.” And anyone who sees someone in that state — male or female — should offer aid to that person to keep him or her safe. 

Late last month, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released a 20-page report and said that colleges must take action.

“Colleges and universities can no longer turn a blind eye or pretend rape and sexual assault doesn’t occur on their campuses,” Vice President Joe Biden said. “We need to provide survivors with more support and we need to bring perpetrators to more justice and we need colleges and universities to step up.”

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