Like in India, introspection on sexual assault against women is underway on US campuses, too. For long, cases of forced sex on campuses, known by the moniker ‘date rape,’ has been something people talked about with a wink. People knew it went on, but few responded to it. Data was scarce, so nobody really knew how prevalent it was.
Then, in May this year, the Office of Civil Rights within the US Department of Education revealed that 55 campuses were being investigated for possible violations of Title IX.
This included well-known institutions such as Harvard College, Princeton University and University of California-Berkley. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational programmes that receive federal assistance.
Another, the Clery Act requires colleges to issue warnings in a timely manner in cases of sexual assault.Wrong parties
Some features of college campuses seem to provide a breeding ground for sexual violence. Fraternities, social organisations for men (and sororities for women) are meant to help students socialise and build relationships.
However, parties thrown by the fraternities have developed their own reputation for wantonness. Some studies show that fraternity members are more likely than non-fraternity members to engage in assault.
Peer pressure and fear of being ostracised makes many students less willing to report sexual assault Apart from rape, intimate partner violence, domestic violence, and stalking are other forms of punishable behaviour. Campus authorities also have to share the blame in creating a culture where women are advised not to pursue justice.
In campuses where sports teams command a lot of adulation, charges brought against errant team members, if proven, can result in severe restrictions placed on the college by national sports bodies. Some college authorities and counsellors are known to have advised the victims from pursuing their charges.
Boston Globe reported last month that ‘forcible sex offenses’ rose 40 per cent between 2012 and 2013 in two dozen colleges in the northeast. Some of the increase may be because women increasingly feel more comfortable reporting assaults.
National surveys suggest that an estimated 88 per cent of college victims do not report assaults. Some colleges have begun conducting anonymous surveys to ascertain the prevalence of the problem
Many campuses, spread over several acres, provide emergency call stands where one can access campus security 24 hrs and even ask for an escort. Campuses have started conducting workshops for students on appropriate behaviour.
The investigations of the federal government were meant to see if the colleges were properly handling complaints of sexual violence and whether students felt the environment was sexually hostile. This is paying off. For instance, Tufts University, after being in denial mode, is reported to have accepted that it was not complying with government rules.
The writer is with Suffolk University, Boston, and Jindal Global Business School, Delhi NCR
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