Sexual assault, a topic that is usually reserved for conversations behind closed doors, or left out of conversation altogether, has been thrust into the national spotlight. A presidential nominee has been caught on camera saying that when you're famous, women let you commit sexual assault. The first lady recently gave a speech about the treatment of women, and stories of campus rape have gone viral.
To fight the stigma surrounding sexual assault, President Obama established a task force in 2014 to protect students from sexual assault and launched the "It's On Us" campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault on college campuses. The task force includes the secretary of education, who last Wednesday visited Claremont McKenna College for a roundtable discussion with students about preventing sexual assault.
In fact, USC and the rest of the Pac-12 schools have been inspired by the White House's call to action. At the annual Pac-12 Leadership Summit, the student representatives from all 12 schools decided that sexual assault was the No. 1 issue concerning their campuses. All agreed to spend this academic year spreading awareness.
"Obviously, a single school has power itself, but we'd have more coming from 12 schools," said Luke Southwell-Chan, the communications director for USC's undergraduate student government. The student government's goal is to constantly reinforce sexual assault awareness throughout the year, instead of starting in April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, he said.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. But because most cases of campus sexual assault go unreported, the statistics found in university safety reports likely reflect a number lower than the actual amount of sexual assaults.
According to the latest USC Department of Public Safety report, there have been 105 reported sex offenses between 2013 and 2015. The report covered four categories of sex offense: rape, fondling, incest and statutory rape. There are about 44,000 students at USC.
The school kicked off its sexual assault awareness campaign on Monday with "It Ends Here," a weeklong program that will include an art show, poetry slam, film screening and self-defense class. According to the Facebook event page, the goal is to "inspire the student bodies of our universities to take a stand and end sexual assault on our campuses."
"Awareness is always a start," said Southwell-Chan. "I think people tend to be aware, but I don't think students tend to take action and that's something we want to start pushing. A lot of times people feel jaded because they're only one person. … [We want to start] showing their one voice can make a difference."
University administrations are federally held accountable for cases of sexual assault. Introduced in 1990, the Jeanne Clery Act requires all public colleges and universities to publicly provide information about crime on campus, including specific policies and procedures about reporting crimes, options for survivors and emergency notifications in an annual security report. In addition to this information, universities are required to provide survivors with changes to academic, transportation or living or working situations, as well as help reporting the crime to law enforcement if the survivor chooses to do so.
Pac-12 school Washington State University—which was one of 50 colleges recently investigated under Title IX, the law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, for violating the Clery Act— has adapted the "It's On Us" campaign with "It's On Cougs." The campaign, run by the associated students of WSU, focuses on "teaching the student body what consent means," said Kelsey Phariss, the campaign's director.
The campaign works closely with the Women's Resource Center on campus and the national organization Green Dot to bring speakers to campus on consent and bystander intervention and how to speak to your partner about consent. The campaign also produces videos for students on consent.
Being under investigation inspired the associated students to "take it up a notch … to bring this into a nationalized campaign," said Phariss. "One thing I have noticed, especially being Greek, there hasn't been an inherent lack of sexual assault but there is an awareness. Students at WSU are finally starting to pay attention. In the next couple years I think students will be able to turn that into a conversation with their peers."
At UCLA, the Bruin Consent Coalition works year-round to spread awareness. Its largest events include an art-as-activism clothesline display, which features handmade clothing by survivors of violence and Take Back the Night, which features survivors telling their stories and is popular on campuses around the country. USC also participates in Take Back the Night.
The UCLA Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Center helps survivors confidentially, said Yong-Yi Chiang, a co-director of the Bruin Consent Coalition and a Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) advocate. Because "Title IX has an obligation to take action for safety of the whole campus," if a student reports to their Title IX coordinator first, societal repercussions could occur. This, Chiang said, is probably the biggest barrier to survivors reporting their assault. "A huge part of it is the stigma [that comes with being found out]," she said.
The stigma attached with sexual assault includes being judged, especially when alcohol is involved in an assault. "There's a fear of potentially ruining someone's life," said Chiang. Depending on the situation, too, people might say the survivor was "asking for it."
"It's part of the rape culture on campus," said Chiang. Because the process is long and tedious, survivors might forgo reporting. "It's hard to recount … these experiences. And having the respondent challenge the complaint can be really difficult for survivors to have to go through and relive their trauma."
CARE is able to work with students confidentially, and then help them report the assault if they choose. For example, if a survivor's respondent is in their class, CARE can work with Title IX to move either the survivor or respondent to a different class. Other options include changing a survivor's housing and filing a restraining order.
Another PAC-12 school working toward changing attitudes about sexual assault is Oregon State University. OSU recently rolled out the Beavers Give A Damn program, a peer-led bystander intervention training. The training is co-facilitated by a student and a professional to lead participants through consent, how you can intervene, how to stop victim blaming and "to stop gender socialization issues that create this world where people accept this to be the norm," said Rachel Grisham, president of the Associated Students of OSU.
Grisham said the program is taking off, especially in student groups and Greek life. "It's a huge push on our campus so we're excited to talk about it."
At USC, "It Ends Here" is meant to start a conversation that will continue throughout the school year.
Carrie Zhang, co-director of USG's performing arts committee, thinks that universities should be doing more. "There needs to be more accountability for the issue of sexual assault on campus," she said. One way to do this is to make sexual assault awareness "more of a conversation in a lot of the essential part[s] of the campus lifestyle."
Students at USC can report incidents of prohibited conduct to the Title IX coordinator in the Office of Equity and Diversity at (213) 740-5086 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Students can also receive help in reporting from RSVP, Student Support and Advocacy, Residential Education, DPS and the Engemann Student Counseling Center.