Report on sexual assault policies aims for safer campuses

A report released today explores whether college and university policies in the U.S. are making the grade when it comes to addressing sexual assault. Making the Grade? Findings from the Campus Accountability Project on Sexual Assault Policies provides a snapshot of nearly 300 institutional policies from 2009-2012. Policies were collected by student activists and analyzed by SAFER and V-DAY who collaborated on the Campus Accountability Project and report. 

The overall findings demonstrate campus sexual assault is not comprehensively addressed by college and university polices. 

  • 80% Received Grade of C or Lower 
  • Primary Prevention Programming Continues To Represent Critical Area for Growth
  • Nearly One-Third of Policies Do Not Fully Comply with Federal Law

According to the report, “Policy represents a powerful, sustainable tool for eliminating sexual violence and responding to the needs of survivors. Students, staff, and faculty leave campus, but policy endures. It can institutionalize social and procedural norms that support survivors, uphold due process, and counteract rape culture at U.S. colleges and universities."

The research focused on five domains:

  • Survivor resources
  • Educational programming
  • Safety initiatives
  • Formal policy highlights
  • Clery Act Compliance

The full report covers the study methods and sample, and findings highlight each of the five domains of research as well as composite scores (A-F) for the sample. The highest scoring policy was a B+, and on average policies assessed in the database received a D+. Sadly, nearly one-quarter (22.1%) scored in the F range. 

Prevention

“Campus stakeholders seeking to end sexual assault should expand opportunities for student involvement in meaningful primary prevention activities.”

Detailed conclusions and recommendations from SAFER and V-Day emphasize the importance of primary prevention activities on campuses. Although most of the policies in the database employ awareness-raising, risk reduction (90%) and safety initiatives (75%), these efforts are not effective in addressing the root causes of sexual violence. Campus risk reduction and safety activities can actually be a barrier to change and promote victim blaming when they occur in isolation from primary prevention efforts (such as bystander intervention, changing norms, engaging men).

Conclusions

Although the report presents bleak findings on the current state of campus sexual assault policies, it also affirms the potential for change. Social movements to address campus sexual assault are gaining momentum, and the report highlighted student empowerment project Know Your IX. Comprehensive reporting on the epidemic of campus sexual assault is working to increase public investment and outrage including the recent efforts of Al Jazeera America. Federal legislation such as the Campus SaVE Act prioritizes and mandates primary prevention programming on college campuses. 

As the attention on campus sexual assault prevalence and policies grows, it’s exciting to see efforts such as this report which lay a road map to counteract rape culture. Report recommendations provide practical steps for campuses to work toward change: 

  • Increase the availability and accessibility of survivor resources, such as free emergency contraception after sexual assault; 
  • Increase primary prevention efforts and create more opportunities for students to engage meaningfully with primary prevention activities; 
  • Ensure that sexual assault policies are accessible to students in regard to centralized placement on schools’ websites, readability, and comprehensiveness; 
  • Adopt amnesty clauses to encourage reporting by survivors who may have been in violation of other school policies at the time of their assault; and 
  • Create more opportunities for students to participate in policy decisions. 

The Campus Accountability Project (CAP) is a national online database of sexual assault policies at U.S. institutions of higher education. The data is used to assess campus policies and functions as a teaching tool for student activists working toward reform. 

SAFER and V-Day aim to support student activists who seek to affect long-lasting change in their campus communities by reforming their schools’ sexual assault policies.

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