(June 24, 2014) – “We have learned that most campuses don't have a protocol between campus and local law enforcement,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill this week, as she outlined the challenges to combating sexual assault on college campuses. Rebecca O’Connor, RAINN’s vice president for public policy, joined McCaskill and law enforcement and campus leaders at the nationally-televised roundtable discussion in Washington, DC.
O’Connor noted the importance of encouraging more survivors to report to law enforcement (only 40% of all survivors report their attack; that figure is even lower among victims in college). “It’s not just about offering as many options and available ways to report, but also making sure people know what those are... One thing that will promote survivors coming forward is having that coordinated community of response, so that [survivors] see the systems working together,” said O’Connor.
McCaskill (D-MO), a former prosecutor, has emerged as one of the leaders in Congress in addressing sexual assault issues, as have Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The three are currently working together on a bill to address campus rapes.
Other participants in this week’s event, which was the third in a series of roundtables, cited the challenge in balancing the desire for confidentiality with the need for timely warnings.
Noting that the federal Clery Act requires a school to notify a community if there is someone who is a threat, Detective Carrie Hull of the Ashland, OR, police department argued that doing so reinforces “the myth that people are jumping out of bushes and sexually assaulting people. It seems so counterproductive and reinforces what we are all trying so hard to fight…that that is not the reality of these cases.” In fact, more than two-thirds of rapes are committed by someone acquainted with the victim.
While the idea that most rapes are committed by a stranger is a myth, so, too, is the idea that most rapes are misunderstandings or dates that went too far, says O’Connor. According to research by Dr. David Lisak, college rapists tend to be serial predators, with just 3-4% of college men committing more than 90% of all campus rapes (equivalent statistics are not available for female assailants). As for improvements to the existing system, several participants suggested strategies ranging from consent education to hiring trained investigators, and streamlining the reporting process.
“I want to know that survivors are getting the services they need and that the perpetrators of sexual violence are held criminally responsible. But I know that’s not all that’s required. And I want to make sure that whatever steps we take going forward are the right ones,” said McCaskill last month.
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