Feds to Colleges: To Stop Campus Rape, Schools Must Get Better at This

Proposed federal regulations would require colleges to keep more thorough track of sex crimes on campus.

(Photo: Mike Tittel/Getty Images)

Jun 19, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Solvej Schou writes regularly for TakePart, and has also contributed to the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, BBC.com, and Entertainment Weekly.

Check this off as one victory in a long fight waged by college activists and campus rape prevention groups to make colleges and universities more proactive about dealing with incidents.

The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday announced regulations requiring colleges to compile statistics for incidents of dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking, as well as current stats on campus rape.

The proposed rules, officially published Friday for public comment until July 21, would make changes to the Clery Act. The act requires colleges to report crime statistics in a timely manner and falls under last year’s Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.

Recommendations under the proposed rules also include colleges adopting the FBI’s newly revised definition of rape and boosting protections for victim confidentiality. Gender identity and national origin as categories of bias would be added under the Clery Act’s definition of hate crimes.

“I think it’s great they’re strengthening victims’ confidentiality,” said Tracey Vitchers, communications coordinator for Students Active for Ending Rape. “One big deterrent for people reporting is fear their report will not be kept confidential, especially on smaller campuses, where word spreads quickly.”

University of California, Los Angeles, student Savannah Badalich, the school's appointed student wellness commissioner and founder of the anti–campus assault campaign 7,000 in Solidarity, agreed. The 21-year-old sexual assault survivor praised the emphasis on protecting victims already scared by the assaults themselves.

“Students need to know who they can talk to without being re-victimized,” she said. “The Department of Education has been great about listening to student survivor activists. Universities won’t make changes until they are forced to.”

The proposed rules come several months after President Barack Obama’s formation of a White House task force to crack down on campus sexual assault, citing a report that while one in five students is sexually assaulted, only 12 percent of survivors tell authorities.

They come nearly two months after the Education Department revealed 55 public and private colleges, from Ohio State to Harvard, facing federal investigation for their mishandling of student sexual abuse allegations. The investigations are being done under 1972’s federal education anti–sex discrimination law Title IX.

Both Vitchers and Badalich view the proposed regulation that colleges adopt the FBI’s new definition of rape, which went into effect in January 2013, as a valuable step toward change.

The old definition called rape “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” The new definition refers to penetration of various body parts with an object or sex organ without specifically referring to women as victims.

“It’s broader and more inclusive of male survivors and other types of rape that can occur,” said Vitchers. “It will hopefully reform various definitions of rape on college campuses. It’s very problematic when colleges use watered-down language such as ‘non-consensual sex’ versus ‘rape.’ ”