The White House has released new recommendations for combating campus sexual assault, an ongoing problem that has gained new attention in the past couple of years as victims of assault have called attention to inadequate responses by many top colleges and universities.
The recommendations urge colleges, among other measures, to conduct anonymous surveys about sexual assault cases, adopt anti-assault policies that have been considered successful at other universities and to better ensure that the reports of such crimes remain confidential. The guidelines are contained in a report by a White House task force that President Obama formed early this year, and the administration is likely to ask Congress to pass measures that would enforce the recommendations and levy penalties for failing to do so. The government will also open a website, NotAlone.gov, to track enforcement and provide victims with information.Urging is not enough when it comes to getting colleges to report sexual assaults, since they fear that prospective students won't attend if the statistics look bad; fraternity houses are also a common site for sexual assaults, and the economic power of fraternity alumni often prevents schools from taking action against frats.
Many advocates for such a crackdown may see the proposals as an inadequate response to a crisis, but the White House is hamstrung about what it can do without congressional action and has just begun its own attack on the issue.
Some schools have faced consequences from the Department of Education for mishandling of sexual assault cases:
Last year, the agency fined Yale University $165,000 for failing to disclose four sexual offenses involving force over several years. Eastern Michigan University paid $350,000 in 2008 for failing to sound a campus alert after a student was sexually assaulted and killed. The department also reached a settlement last year with the University of Montana at Missoula after investigating the university’s sexual-misconduct policies and finding them woefully inadequate.This week, Tufts University was found to have violated anti-discrimination laws in relation to sexual assault cases. In short, colleges and universities have concluded that it is in their interest to downplay and cover up sexual assault, trying to keep the world from noticing that it's happening rather than working harder to prevent it from happening.