Make college campuses safer for female students

Editorial Board - 12:30 a.m. EDT July 15, 2014

A New York Times story Sunday that raised questions about two regional colleges’ handling of a sexual assault case is the latest argument for stricter policies and stronger protections on campuses nationwide.

Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, Ontario County, defended their response after an 18-year-old freshman last September claimed she was raped and sexually assaulted by three members of the school’s football team. The student, identified only as Anna, received prompt medical attention and was advised of counseling and legal options, including reporting allegations to the police.

But like many students under similar circumstances, she opted to have the school investigate and adjudicate the complaint. And like many such students, she was left feeling ill served by a process that did not protect her identity, did not allow her to be represented by a lawyer during disciplinary hearings, and did not find her alleged assailants responsible.

In the same situation today, Anna wouldn’t even report an attack.

That is not an acceptable outcome; not when as many as one in five of the millions of female college students - including those among Monroe County’s estimated 40,000 attending four-year schools - will be the victim of an attempted or completed assault.

Remember, under-reporting has been a serious impediment to adequate response to the crimes. And dozens of schools - including Hobart and William Smith - are undergoing Title IX investigations by the Education Department for their responses to assault complaints.

Colleges’ President Mark Gearan, in a written reply to the Times story, outlined a number of continuing initiatives aimed at dealing with campus assaults. Good. Such attention should be ongoing at all schools.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, meanwhile, must wield her growing clout to secure stronger federal oversight. The senator - who called women like Anna who come forward “the definition of courage” - must also use her pulpit to urge better education. “These crimes are not dates gone bad, or a good guy who had too much to drink,” she correctly stated.

Resources like the federal government’s new notalone.gov website provide tools for those who have been assaulted. And a White House task force has urged colleges to conduct annual anonymous surveys to ascertain the extent of the problem on individual campuses - a precursor to a much-needed database to assist incoming freshmen.

Get all such tools on the table. Students like Anna cannot be left to feel they have been victimized twice.



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