Do Your Research: Campus Sexual Assault

It’s about the time of year when many high school students are choosing a school for next year and getting ready to take the big leap into collegeland. Most of these young people, and probably the subset of them that reads here, have done a lot of research on the school that they will end up choosing: the number of students, location, ranking, specialties, required courses, food, dorms, diversity, campus visits, campus life and culture, athletics, extracurriculars, classes, professors. This is not a decision that most people make quickly or lightly, and it’s common for people to spend months researching and visiting colleges to determine which one is the best fit for them.

But one of the things probably should play into people’s college choices but which rarely gets researched is campus sexual assault. Obviously this isn’t one of the things that schools put in their brochure. It isn’t something that gets talked about, and oftentimes it’s nearly impossible to research because rapes or assaults don’t get reported. But the prevalence of rape culture on campus can make an immense difference in the experience that an individual has during their four years in college. It can make a massive difference to your whole life if you happen to be one of the 1 in 5 women who is assaulted while in college.

It can be a bit of a buzzkill in the midst of college applications and excitement to think about the possibility that you will be assaulted while in college. But this is one of the few places where a potential victim can actually do something to help prevent an assault from happening, and so it’s a very good idea to think about it. Obviously it’s not failsafe: sexual assault is possible on any campus. However you can look into the ways that the administration reacts, the willingness of those on campus to talk about sexual assault, the resources that are provided to survivors, and the punishments that are in place for those who commit assault in order to find a place where your chances of being assaulted are lower.

Hopefully as we move forward, it will become easier to do this research. The Obama administration has been working with a task force to create recommendations for college campuses around assault and rape, and one of this is a call for more transparency. In the future, the administration intends to offer incentives for campuses to research and accurately report numbers of assaults and attitudes on campus. If all goes as planned, this will make it easier for potential students to judge whether a campus is the right place for them.

As part of this task force, the administration has set up the website notalone.gov to provide resources and data about campus assault. This is a good place to start when looking for information about a potential school. Another good resource is RAINN, which has programs designed specifically for campus safety. Perhaps the easiest and quickest way to research whether your top runner has a problem with sexual assault is to simply Google their name along with the words “rape” or “sexual assault”. Unfortunately, it’s likely that articles will pop up for every school in the nation, but with some digging you may be able to find out more about how the school handles incidents.

Another good place to check is the school website. They likely have a wellness center or health center that includes some information about support for survivors. Some campuses have a campus group dedicated to supporting victims, and others run programs of peer counseling and support. Spend some time looking through the parts of the website dedicated to current students and you may find out what kinds of resources they have and what their policies are. It could be a good idea to get in touch with the people who run those resources to ask a few questions.

So for all of you almost grads out there, congrats on your completion of high school and good luck with your future campus. I hope you find only good things. But please, at least take the time to find out so that you’ll be prepared and can take action if what you find isn’t what you hoped to see.


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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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