The numbers are grim and hard to grasp: Studies estimate that one in five women will be sexually assaulted in their college years.
Even harder to imagine: More than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault, according to a 2013 study from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Just 20 percent of rape and sexual assault cases among college-age victims were reported to police between 1995 and 2013 according to a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Even in a 2015 report from the Association of American Universities, researchers found among 150,000 students from 27 universities — including the University of Pennsylvania — only “a relatively small percentage (e.g., 28 percent or less) of even the most serious incidents are reported to an organization or agency (e.g., Title IX office; law enforcement).”
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) is trying to change the conversation and push back against systemic underreporting of sexual assault on campuses with the implementation of the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, which was endorsed by several local and national Jewish organizations.
The Campus SaVE Act, which was passed as Section 304 of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 2013 — the original legislation was also drafted with the help of a Jewish women’s organization — went into effect for the first time this school year. The key parts of the bill are educational programs for bystander intervention for men and women, and a more detailed annual report from schools’ crime records.
The bill defines sexual assault as “any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks capacity to consent.”
The Campus SaVE Act “requires uniform reporting standards for sexual assaults on college campuses and requires schools to provide clear guidelines to students on their sexual assault policies,” according to a press release from Casey’s office.
“Sexual assaults on our campuses are a serious issue and action is needed. Those who commit sexual assault must be held accountable, and those who stand by and do nothing must realize that silence isn’t an option,” Casey said in the press release. “The Campus SaVE Act will improve how campus communities respond to sexual, domestic, dating violence and stalking. It will empower students and employees to end unhealthy relationships and seek assistance.”
“We are pleased Casey pushed it through so quickly” said Linda Lempert, legislative chair of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Philadelphia branch. “You think two years is a long time, but it’s not.”
The NCJW was one of 29 national organizations that endorsed the law, including American Association of University Women, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and Men Can Stop Rape.
Schools are already required to turn in an annual report detailing instances of crime on campus per Title IV and the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act — or more commonly known as the Clery Act — and the law now also requires counts of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
“The Clery Act, which requires campuses to report crimes on campus, was not including domestic violence and stalking,” said Deborah Rosenbloom, vice president of programs and new initiatives at Jewish Women International, another organization that endorsed the bill, “and yet those crimes are what affect so many college students — both women and men. Without that reporting, there really could be no change because people weren’t aware of what those incidents look like.”
The law aims to close a gap in the existing law — Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which is monitored by the U.S. Department of Education — by requiring colleges and universities that receive federal student aid to be more transparent and accountable about their policies in reporting sexual assault.
This push for transparency is one component that will determine the effectiveness of the law, said Ilana Flemming, manager of Advocacy Initiatives at Jewish Women International. According to Flemming, the schools will need to be monitored to ensure they are compliant. “The other positive component of the law is it adds some requirement for campus disciplinary proceedings. The law requires schools to be transparent about what their process is.”
JWI was active in the reauthorization of both the Violence Against Women Act and the SaVE Act, the latter of which is is a critical piece of legislation, Rosenbloom said.
“These components the bill addresses will help in ending campus-based sexual assault, dating abuse and improve the training in bystander intervention and expand the definition of the Clery Act to include these crimes, which will help with the reporting and awareness of the issues,” she added. “We’re not saying it’s a solution, we’re saying it’s a step in the right direction.”
The Violence Against Women Act was originally enacted in 1994 by then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.). The National Council of Jewish Women was involved in drafting the original legislation as well as the reauthorization two years ago.
VAWA was a key piece of legislation that addressed increased violence against women and outlined several provisions to hold sexual assault offenders responsible, including “holding rapists accountable for their crimes by strengthening federal penalties for repeat sex offenders and creating a federal ‘rape shield law,’ which is intended to prevent offenders from using victims’ past sexual conduct against them during a rape trial,” according to a factsheet on the White House website.
The reauthorization means that the funding was re-upped and programs were enhanced and expanded, said Jody Rabhan, director of NCJW Washington operations. She is “thrilled” about the inclusion of the Campus SaVE Act in the reauthorization, though she was not directly involved with it.
The NCJW is part of a larger coalition, while also working on “campus sexual assault legislation to ensure that folks on campus — men and women — are safe that there are protocols and systems that are transparent, and that universities are held accountable.”
However, she pointed out that while the law is a step forward, she, like Deborah Rosenbloom, said it is not the final solution.
“If we’ve learned anything since 2013,” Rabhan said, “it’s that there is more sexual assault going on around campuses than I think many had thought, and I think that the SaVE Act was incredibly important and still is incredibly important. It’s not the end — it’s the beginning of more work that needs to be done.”
The emphasis on transparency is what will remain to be scrutinized. Schools have gotten away with perhaps not reporting sexual assault as required, she said.
School officials are required to do so under Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in a federally funded education program or activity from sports to sexual harassment, to report sexual assault to the proper authorities. The new law now clearly requires these reports.
“Schools have largely been able to slide by reporting little to no assault on campus and basically not complying and not being fined,” Rabhan continued. “Having this more robust piece in the Campus SaVE Act can only help.”
In the last two years since the reauthorization of VAWA, there has been a lot of focus on what universities are and are not doing as far as recognition and prevention of sexual assault — but perhaps with more emphasis on what they are not doing.
“We are hearing there isn’t a culture of prevention on campuses” she said. “There is not a culture of survivor culture on campus that allows for healing – in general, it’s clear there is a lot that could be better. I think the Campus SaVE Act is a great first step.”
A big piece of the new law is a push for creating bystander intervention programs and prevention programs, which will require the schools’ own resources and money to implement.
Some area schools have already stepped up their game as far as educational initiatives and addressing complaints of sexual misconduct.
“Temple addresses complaints of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, harassment and stalking with a comprehensive set of resources. In addition to complying with the Violence Against Women Act and the Campus SaVE Act provisions, Temple strives to further enhance its resources, procedures and policies related to sexual misconduct,” said Brandon Lausch, a Temple spokesman.
Most schools offer counseling services within their health and wellness centers and have other aid services for victims of sexual assault, and some schools are working to show that more can be done.
In Fall 2014, Temple president Neil D. Theobald appointed a Presidential Committee on Campus Sexual Misconduct and announced in early August that the committee has completed many of its tasks. Among the new initiatives are the “new Sexual Misconduct Resources website, a revised Student Conduct Code and mandatory, annual online sexual misconduct awareness training for students,” Lausch said.
Theobald chose not to create a centralized sexual misconduct office — students who have experienced sexual assault or violence currently report to the Sexual Assault Counseling Education unit at the Wellness Resource Center — but did say he would reconsider should it become necessary.
“Temple supports increased attention to matters of sexual misconduct. This is an extremely important issue in society generally and particularly in the age group of traditional college students,” Lausch said.
Religious leaders have also stepped into the conversation, and have recognized that it is indeed a problem on campus.
“The university has a fantastic comprehensive and really commendable system and personnel professionals on every level to attend to the needs of and the healing and well-being of students who go through and experience sexual violence,” said Rabbi Josh Bolton, senior Jewish educator at Penn Hillel.
The rabbinic team at Penn works with the university to provide support for students, he added.
“Hillel staff often have deep relationships with students and often are some of the folks on the front line of when things go awry,” he said, “but we also recognize there are limitations to our training and we are not therapists, we are not trauma counselors.”
The Jewish Exponent repeatedly reached out to other area schools as well as student organizations such as Swarthmore College and ASAP UPenn for their perspective, but to no avail.
The push for educational initiatives is important for both men and women, according to Linda Lempert of NCJW.
“We applaud the administration for taking that step and recognizing the devastating effect these crimes have on young people on college campuses,” Deborah Rosenbloom at JWI said.
But a campaign can only do so much, according to Lempert. There is no “panacea,” she said.
However, the fact that these schools will lose federal funding might just be the push to comply with the act, she added.
The mandate the president issued emphasized the role of education and was insistent on schools reporting assaults on campus promptly and correctly. The emphasis on education in the Campus SaVE Act is one of its biggest standouts, Lempert said.
“To me, the most important thing is […] the educational aspect — to educate students, be aware of it, be able to recognize a victim of abuse, a victim of stalking, bystander education,” she explained. “It’s not OK to just let something happen and kinda know it’s not good.”
Bystander intervention is another key piece of the legislation, and Lempert likened it to seeing a racially prejudiced act and standing by without acting.
She added that the strongest parts of the law are the requirement for education programs and bystander intervention training initiatives and that the guidelines are clearly outlined for schools to follow.
“It’s much more comprehensive than other laws on sexual assault on campus,” she said.
The SaVE Act is not the final step and there is more work to be done, Jodi Rabhan reiterated, but it is a good place to start so long as it’s not just a piece of a checklist.
“It is a fantastic place to start,” she said, “but I also think that legislators can’t assume, ‘Check, we passed this, we can move on to a different issue.’ But I think it will help a lot.”
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