August marks the beginning of the peak in college sexual assaults. More than 50 percent of college sexual assault happen in the first six weeks of the semester. For many freshmen, its their first extended time away from home. With that freedom comes the freedom to drink and party. Many freshman have not yet developed a support network so they are particularly vulnerable. Even with the sexual harassment training that many colleges require before students enroll, or a 45-minute presentation as part of orientation, the statistics have remained stubbornly troubling.
All women aged 18-24, at college or not, are at increased risk of sexual violence according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). Over 20% of all college students will experience rape or campus sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. Students in their first and second semesters are particularly vulnerable. The Department of Justice has identified the period between students’ arrival on campus and Thanksgiving break as the stretch of time when a student is more likely to be assaulted than at any other point in her college career. This phenomena is so widely known it’s come to be known as the Red Zone.
The idea that victims should somehow avoid this time period – and many of the “prevention tips” provided to freshmen – are little more than telling women to prevent their own rapes. Telling students to stay with friends and in familiar surroundings gives them the impression that it is the victims’ behavior that causes the assault. Reality is that most college women are well aware of the danger of assault and take measures to protect themselves and their friends. They have received this advice and they implement it. But that does not prevent the assaults. Predators know that the students are new and vulnerable and they use this information to break down their victims.
As a result of this reality, some colleges are moving to a different kind of training. Instead of talking to the freshmen, they put the onus on upperclassman. The training is for students to learn to recognize signs of predatory behavior and to intervene if they see it. One such program is the Green Dot Prevention Strategy. A study of this type of bystander intervention program finds that violence rates are lowered when this training is implemented. Other student advocacy groups are focused on turning up action and awareness of college sexual assault during this same time period with efforts such as #ReclaimRedZones.
Students and their families need to be aware of their legal rights when a campus sexual assault has occurred. Despite the fact that a campus sexual assault can have devastating effects on the victim – and on them continuing their education – the vast majority of female student victims do not report their assault to law enforcement. According to RAINN, only about 20% of student victims actually report their campus sexual assault to law enforcement. This compares to 32% of nonstudent female victims. While it does not explain the low report rate, the reality is that most colleges do not do a good job of investigating and reacting to campus sexual assault. Most colleges have an internal investigation and quasi-legal hearing process. Quite often, these investigations and hearings result in weak punishment for heinous incidents. For example, Business Insider conducted an investigation into Yale University‘s process and found 60 formal complaints. Of these, Yale found 15 were rape. But only 5 of the perpetrators were expelled. The other 10 were “punished” with a written reprimand, probation or suspension. Imagine being the rape victim whose assailant receives a written “do not rape” reprimand. The other side of the coin is that universities also do an ineffectual job of protecting the constitutional rights of accused students as well. Yale is not an isolated example – 55 universities faced a federal investigation for their handling of campus sexual assault.
The University is not the only entity that can provide a remedy to a campus sexual assault victim. Sexual assault is a crime and, as such, should be reported to law enforcement. Only a criminal charge can result in some punishment of a perpetrator.
Students also have civil remedies available to them for campus sexual assault. Both the assailant and the University may be sued for a campus sexual assault in some circumstances. Universities may be negligent in the security they provide on campus. This would give rise to a tort action against the school. Some universities may also violate the federal statute known as Title IX.
Title IX is a federal civil rights statute. Sexual harassment and sexual violence are types of gender discrimination that are prohibited by this law. A campus sexual assault victim may have a right to pursue a Title IX action even when the incident occured off-campus or when it involves people who are not students. Students are to be protected from sexual violence and sexual harassment and from retaliation for reporting an assault. Students also have a “bill of rights” under the Clery Act as to what should happen following a campus sexual assault. The Clery Act also requires colleges to report on sexual assault statistics on campuses so students and families can consider that factor when selecting a college.
If you or someone you love has been the victim of a campus sexual assault, know your rights. Find out what the civil justice system can do in your case by contacting Koller Trial Law. Our initial consultation is always free and at no obligation to you.