Making College a Safer Place for Women


By Dana Raphael.

An American woman in college has a better chance of being sexually assaulted than getting the flu. And we all know that college is a petri dish. One in five women will be sexually assaulted while in college, while other studies put the number higher at one in four.

Despite such high rates of sexual violence, between 80 and 95% of survivors do not report the attack. As a result, the perpetrators often walk away without punishment. David Lisak, a clinical psychologist and prominent researcher, elaborates; “By attacking victims within their social networks … and by refraining from the kind of violence likely to produce physical injuries in their victims, these [college] rapists create ‘cases’ that victims are least likely to report, and that prosecutors are less likely to prosecute. A recent study of the factors associated with rape reporting found that only two factors could be isolated that increased the likelihood of victim reporting: physical injuries and the use of a weapon. It is probably not a coincidence that these are also among the factors that tend to make prosecutors look more favorably upon charging a case.”

Currently, Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments “requires schools that receive federal financial assistance to take necessary steps to prevent sexual assault on their campuses,” which includes providing survivors of sexual assault any resources they may need. Other laws, such as the Clery Act and provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act also requires that schools receiving federal funding both report sexual assault and “develop and disseminate prevention policies.” However, these laws have demonstrated that they are not enough to curb the college sexual assault epidemic. Title IX violations are supposed to result in the school’s loss of all federal financial aid, yet this threat has never been carried out.

Recent news has brought to light the stories of college women whose allegations of sexual assault were swept under the rug by their universities, perhaps most famously the story of Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University student who began carrying her mattress around campus to protest Columbia’s mishandling of her case, and her situation is by far not the only one.

We need major reform, and we need it now. That change could come in the form of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), a bipartisan bill that strengthens Title IX and adds new regulations to ensure that universities receiving federal funding – nearly all do – are conducting sexual assault investigations in accordance with the law. The law has five major provisions:

  1. Universities must provide students with Confidential Advisors to assist survivors of sexual assault, informing them of their options and helping them to navigate their recovery. Additionally, universities will be prohibited from sanctioning students who report sexual violence but reveal a nonviolent student conduct violation that occurred at the time of the assault, such as underage drinking.
  2. On-campus personnel must complete minimum standardized training on sexual violence.
  3. Universities must conduct a biennial survey about sexual violence on their campuses, also known as a campus climate report. The results must be published online.
  4. CASA will create a standardized process for campus disciplinary proceedings to ensure fairness, and individual departments or groups may no longer handle complaints of sexual violence.
  5. CASA strengthens the penalties for noncompliance with the law, increasing violations of the Clery Act from the current penalty of $35,000 per violation to $150,000 per violation. 

This law just makes sense. Here’s breakdown of each provision of CASA and why they needed and important.

  1. Survivors of rape need assistance: rape victims are six times more likely to develop PTSD and three times more likely to develop major depression. Giving reporting students amnesty for any nonviolent illegal activity they may have been involved in at the time of the sexual assault, such as underage drinking, encourages more survivors to come forward without fear of retaliation on the part of the university.
  2. Handling sexual assault should require basic training in order to best serve survivors, as well as alleged perpetrators. The training would also largely focus on how to talk to survivors of sexual assault, emphasizing that it is unacceptable intentionally or unintentionally to imply that the victim somehow provoked the attack (through her appearance, manners, etc.). Numerous stories have brought to light just how little training universities officials receive: at one university during a student’s hearing, a panelist appeared not to know what a rape exam entailed or why it might be unpleasant. If students have greater confidence in their university to handle their complaint, they are more likely to come forward.
  3. This provision would incentivize schools to end sexual assault by recording the rates of sexual violence on every college campus and making them available to the public. Rates of sexual assault on a given college campus could become factors in peoples’ decisions to apply to and attend certain schools. Schools with high rates would feel more pressure to reform their policies and enact preventative measures in order to stay competitive with schools with lower percentages of sexual violence, hopefully helping curb the rate of sexual assault.
  4. The federal government is currently investigating 94 institutions for Title IX sexual violence violations. Many of those violations came as a result of flawed disciplinary proceedings. A standardized proceeding process decreases the opportunities for schools to mishandle cases. Additionally, requiring that individual departments or sports teams are no longer able to handle sexual assault cases will help prevent chances of flawed investigations or potential cover-ups.
  5. Raising the stakes for universities will help keep them adherent to the law. By increasing financial penalties for failing to adequately support survivors and handle sexual assault allegations, schools have a larger incentive not to ignore sexual assault allegations.

And yet, there is no guarantee that CASA will pass, or even make it out of one chamber of Congress. The United States has failed on numerous initiatives that were designed to protect women: failing to ratify CEDAW, allowing the Violence Against Women Act to lapse, failing to provide paid maternity leave – the list goes on. CASA may end up just another bullet point on the long list of failures to protect the women of this country.

We have an opportunity in this legislation to finally give sexual assault survivors the support they both deserve and are legally entitled to. It is rare that you find an idea that both Republicans and Democrats agree upon: Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) are both CASA sponsors. CASA makes sense. CASA could help curb the sexual assault epidemic. Let’s stop failing America’s college women. As Senator Gillibrand eloquently noted, “The price of a college education should not include a 1 in 5 chance of being sexually assaulted.”

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  1. Gailya Paliga

    Great article. I talk about similar things in “You won’t believe how unsafe universities are for undergraduate women” at

    We refer to the US Senate Survey and Report, “Sexual Violence On Campus: How too many institutions of higher education are failing to protect students,” at

    And also to “The Hunting Ground” documentary that just came out. One of the women featured in this documentary spoke at Women NC’s event a few months ago. You can read about the documentary and see the powerful trailer at

    A recent Ms. Magazine article talks about how this campus rape problem is well known, in “Why Are University Presidents Leaving Campus Rape Survivors Out in the Cold?“ from 3/18/15.

    Please take a look.

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