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Sexual assault on college campuses is a nationwide issue. According to Sexual Violence Surveillance: Uniform Definitions and Recommended Data Elements, “Sexual violence occurs when a perpetrator commits sexual acts without a victim’s consent, or when a victim is unable to consent (e.g., due to age, illness) or refuse (e.g., due to physical violence or threats)” (Basile et. al. 1). It is a crime that victimizes an alarming number of college students. According to the authors of the article, “Sexual Harassment in the 1990s: A University-wide Survey of Female Faculty, Administrators, Staff, and Students,” “Most studies report that between 20% and 40% of undergraduate and graduate women experience some form of sexual harassment while a student” (Kelley and Parsons 549).
This statistic confirms the problem of sexual assault plagues universities and college campuses, and displays a great need for better prevention, education, and awareness about sexual assault across college campuses.
The problem of sexual assault on college campuses is not a new or recent issue.
For decades, college campuses across the country have been flooded with accusations of sexual assault and sexual violence, and they have been criticized for how they have handled these allegations and responded to the students involved. Fortunately, concern for the sexual victimization of women and men has garnered increased attention in recent years. In the not so distant past, victims of sexual assault and violence received little to no attention, and more often than not, their accusations were not taken seriously or dismissed entirely. In “The Sexual Victimization of College Women,” the author discusses the risk of victimization of women on college campuses:
Researchers have shown that college campuses and their students are not free from the risk of criminal victimization.
It is noteworthy that large concentrations of young women come into contact with young men in a variety of public and private settings at various times on college campuses. Previous research suggests that these women are at greater risk for rape and other forms of sexual assault than women in the general population or in a comparable age group. College women might, therefore, be a group whose victimization warrants special attention. (Fisher et al. 1)
Fortunately, there are laws in place aimed at protecting victims of sexual assault on university and college campuses. Title IX is a law passed in 1972 which requires gender equity for males and females in every educational program that receives federal funding (Meyer and Somoza-Norton 8). This includes sexual assault and means schools have an obligation under Title IX to prevent and address harassment against students. Authors Elizabeth J. Meyer and Andrea Somoza-Norton go on to state, “while Title IX’s language may seem perfectly clear, its interpretation, application, and enforcement haven’t always been smooth and straightforward. […] some districts have overlooked their responsibilities altogether” (8). This has stirred debates on campuses nationwide and is leaving parents and students concerned that colleges may not actually be providing the level of security and preventative measures against sexual assault they claim to provide.
One potential solution to this problem is for universities to provide more easily accessible resources for students regarding sexual assault. It is essential to the safety and well-being of students that universities provide resources to students who have experienced a sexual assault. Currently, most colleges and universities in Louisiana provide online resources via their respective university websites. These resources include answers to frequently asked questions on what to do if a student has experienced or knows someone who has experienced a sexual assault, as well as contact information of third-party entities which can help victims navigate their emotions and determine how to move forward. Many universities in Louisiana have also organized campus programs aimed at sexual assault and violence prevention. These resources can be vital for students; however, students may not know this information exists online as it is typically not easily located or presented on the website’s main homepage. These resources need to be more visible and easily accessible for students. This can be achieved by campus newsletters periodically discussing the topic of campus sexual assault and providing these existing resources to students in an easier, more convenient manner. Universities can also issue campus-wide electronic correspondence to their students as it relates to current events. For example, universities can send mass emails to promote awareness and prevention of sexual assault during Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAS). If there is a current event in the media related to sexual assault or violence, they can take the opportunity to support these existing resources by issuing campus-wide emails to their students. This is not only a convenient solution, but it is also cost-effective. By doing this, universities can effectively distribute this critical information to their students in the tragic event that someone may need to utilize this information.
Another possible solution to the problem of sexual assault on college campuses in Louisiana is to prevent and educate students on irresponsible alcohol consumption. According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll of 1,053 current and recent college students, “Heavy drinking is one of the most significant predictors of sexual assault in college” (Brown et al). Most college campuses in Louisiana restrict the use of alcohol in some manner, whether it be enforcing the legal drinking age of 21 or banning alcohol from campuses in entirely. Many campuses, however, do not provide mandatory alcohol education courses to their students aside from possibly a brief mention of the topic during freshman orientation. A mandatory full-semester alcohol education course, covering topics from underage drinking to heavy drinking and related consequences, for all incoming freshman students could prove to be very useful in preventing irresponsible alcohol consumption among these students, and thus preventing alcohol related sexual assaults.
Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Taking this thought and applying it to the problem of sexual assault on college campuses in Louisiana could make a significant impact on the safety and security of college students. Many colleges across the state could improve their sexual assault education efforts by more frequently disbursing educational media materials to students. This could include videos, newsletters, and posters on campuses. A mandatory full-semester course is also an excellent way to educate students on the meaning of sexual assault, the importance of consent, rape culture, and how sexual assault can be prevented on college campuses in Louisiana. Providing this information frequently and on many different platforms is crucial in spreading moral awareness to all students.
The most effective method to combatting the problem of sexual assault on college campuses in Louisiana is to provide extensive education to students regarding the issue and give them the knowledge to help prevent sexual assaults in the future. Nothing is more important than a good education. While alcohol consumption is a leading factor in campus sexual assault and educating students on responsible drinking could help reduce these assaults, combatting the problem head on would be a more effective solution. In Understanding and Preventing Campus Violence, author Michelle A. Paludi states, “Enacting policies that identify the behaviors that are considered to be sexually harassing and implementing procedures that provide the steps for making a complaint are the essential foundation for prevention” (133). Considering the costs to provide education materials and mandatory courses to students, a more all-encompassing approach would be more educational and cost-effective in the long-term. Making resources more easily accessible via electronic correspondence is an excellent way to keep students informed and educated regarding sexual assault prevention. While it is more cost-effective than providing large amounts of educational materials on multiple platforms or mandating a semester long sexual assault education and prevention course, this more extensive methodology is more effective. It has greater potential to empower sexual assault survivors to acknowledge their assault, seek the resources they need to heal and move forward, and also to create better awareness among students to break the stigma and prevent future sexual assaults.
Sexual assault is an issue which plagues colleges and universities in Louisiana. Together, federal laws and statewide university policies have progressed over the years in combatting this issue; however, more can always be done. There are many effective ways to educate students and prevent sexual assault on college campuses in Louisiana. The ultimate goal is to give students the tools they need to understand sexual assault, and learn how they can be a part of the solution to take steps towards making their college campus safe and sexual assault free.
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