On Sexual Assault, the US Needs a Broader Approach

Feminists, journalists, and campus activists were finally heard this year when the White House announced its intention to attack the scourge of sexual assault in the US head-on. It made good on this promise toward the end of April, with the White House Report on Campus Sexual Assault. Despite a few problems, the report was full of facts and recommendations that will hopefully curb the repugnant rate of sexual assaults on college campuses. Too many women and men have been (and are currently) victimized by sexual assault and then silenced by their university’s policies on rape and sexual assault.

One of the most impressive recommendations in the report was the insistence that rehabilitation programs should be put in place for students found guilty of sexual assault. Most sexual assailants are repeat offenders; attempting to reprogram why they think rape is OK is a great step in preventing future violence.

On top of White House action on the issue, there have been stirrings from both the House and the Senate to make tangible policy changes to help victims and prevent future assaults. House members Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Patrick Meehan, D-Penn., were signatories on a letter sent to US News and World Report urging the publication to include rates of sexual assault and the campus’ record of handling the issue in its annual college rankings. This is added incentive for colleges and universities to actually follow through with the White House’s policy recommendations.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, has suggested an easily accessible database of sexual assault cases on college campuses be created so that students will be able to get specific, accurate information on how each institution handles the issue, and how widespread problems of sexual assault truly are on campuses that insist safety is a top priority.

These policies will force colleges to be accountable when they do not take responsibility to keep students safe. Universities that have up to this point failed their student body will be faced with a choice: actually work to prevent sexual assault and put programs in place to help victims, or take on the reputation as a rape-apologist campus.

The report and subsequent legislative action are all steps in the right direction when it comes to addressing the US’ sexual assault problem, but the focus on college campuses is too narrow. Only 20% of the US population will go to college. Even fewer attend a residential 4-year college or university. This means that the majority of men and women do not live in a community that is being asked to change and is under a Title IX obligation to do so.

Rates of high school sexual assault in this country is high; about 10.5 percent of girls are sexually assaulted before they graduate high school. In some states, that rate is higher than 17 percent.1 There are horror stories of students being raped on school grounds and their high school administration doing nothing. In some of these cases, perpetrators are teachers. For high school girls and boys, better collegiate policies on rape and sexual assault are too little too late.

Although the White House report does encourage education and preparedness in high school, it is tangential to the recommendations for college campuses. Most people in the US don’t go to college, but they do have at least some high school education.

These students desperately need training in consent, bystander intervention, and sexual assault awareness. Most young women view sexual assault and harassment to be normal behaviors that men can’t help, and significant rates of high school boys and girls believe “forced sex” to be okay in certain situations.2 By creating a culture of consent starting in high school, we can prevent future assaults.

We also need to be conscious of the adults who have never been exposed to this kind of education and do not have easy access to help. We need to sponsor community outreach programs and better publicize rape crisis centers.

Though the circumstances of rape in college communities are abhorrent, I fear we are forgetting those who can’t or don’t go to college. The original White House report found that rates of assault are about the same for those in college and the general population.3 When it comes to sexual assault, no survivor should be left behind.


1. Boys are also sexually assaulted, but at lower rates. I have yet to find data specific to high school-age boys.

2. 56% of girls and 76% of boys believed there were situations in which “forced sex” was acceptable. Rape was referred to as “forced sex” for the purposes of the study, to glean students’ true attitudes about rape. Rape is not sex, it is assault. Additionally, this study is over 20 years old, so its numbers may not be representative of today’s young people.

3. Admittedly, these rates are a departure from those I was familiar with before. Likely outdated, prior to the White House report it was my understanding that rates for college women were higher than those for the general population.

3 responses to “On Sexual Assault, the US Needs a Broader Approach

  1. “Boys are also sexually assaulted, but at lower rates. I have yet to find data specific to high school-age boys”

    Of course there are little or no data. NOW is more interested in getting all the VAWA funding for women’s programs. Last time I checked there is no “VAMA” programs funded by the feds. Therefore, it stands to reason there is little research on gender issues primarily affecting boys and men.

  2. Your intent to broaden approach to sexual assault is good BUT needs to be FAR broader- ~2002 I sent NYT via Thomas Friedman 150 articles from across globe, 12 from U.S.- core issue inequality of females, noting it IS a human issue, not a gender issue, as good men’s groups agree including VP Biden’s Founding Fathers. (But Pres. Obama’s Post on Violence Against Women- to which I was invited to report- reports to Biden, but seemingly sinister forces are blocking broader progress as little linked to them makes the media.) Trafficking in U.S. is reportedly now ~100,000/yr, a few are boys. Abusive custody or unsupervised visitation now ~58,000/yr, about = girls/boys. Studies show fabrication of abuse <5%. All kids from dysfunctional homes or environments have far higher rate of harming themselves or others. Power of indoctrination is strong- witness recent NYT pic of 1000s of fully covered Muslim women rebuking uncovered. But doesn't indoctrination apply to boys, too? Don't we NEED to find compassionate, constructive checks & balances between different male/female natures as well as inherent greed increasingly creating all sorts of inequalities? Isn't that TRULY the only way to keep humanity from self destructing?
    WHAT do we need? How about making BIG push to persuade media to make big push for contests with incentives re how to teach emotional intelligence, including challenges of good partnering & parenting- in schools, society, ETC., and COURTs (legal system – FAR easier to sue in U.S. & increasingly Who CAN Win Vs What Is Fair, no matter the topic, but esp. vs kids & often moms; judges & lawyers need far more training re abuse esp. re Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde; MUST decrease statistic that google legal abuse site noted -divorce has become a business, biggest one for civil courts). Consider that recent NYT article noting arrest of 71 re child porn, only one was female but virtually all were males in respected positions- police, teachers, scout leaders, etc. Stats show many pimps & prostitutes- abused as kids. Judges Rarely get sanctioned- aren't they human?
    I had petition asking legal reform be part of presidential debates in 2004- got 189 signatures in 2 days, then site hacked- after election across petition came- "Aren't you glad election turned out the way it did?" I asked again for 2008 & 2012 elections. I asked at NOW/IWPR conf. 2008 in Atlanta when I was approved to make a presentation- "Impact on Taxpayers of Systematic Devastation of Women in Courts"(Later- no one got back to me, including this spring when I solicited Terry- tho perhaps it never got thru to her). I've had new petition since 2/13/14 (google my name, click top- my blog, click 1st- my petition- signatures stalled at 41 tho presented to hundreds & I even have email from ONE source saying they got 20 additional signatures awhile back). I humbly ask would I be in so many Whos Whos & so much come up when you google my name if some didn't think my message has quite a bit of merit? I seek no recognition, just results, as I'm increasingly petrified re future for my kids & grandkids, but they share this planet with yours! I have 5 sons- 2step, 8 grandkids.
    One idea I've mentioned that might help to get compassionate constructive dialogue going is to apply cliche's topic by topic. "None are so blind as those who will not see….All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing (or I add too little too late)…..Absolute power corrupts absolutely (applies in spades to legal system + to unequal pay issues; both topics interrelate to LOTS)…..Nothing will ever be attempted if all objections must first be overcome…..Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has." ETC!! Butterfly Theory- small initial change may result in large later change.

  3. The rate of campus assault and rape, seem to be escalating instead of diminishing.
    MEN are the ones who NEED education about rape and inappropriate behavior.
    For too many yaers/decades/centuries.
    We have put the blame on women.
    NO MORE!!!
    Put the blame exactly where it belongs on MEN !!!!
    IT stops NOW.!!!

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