The new White House report on college sexual assault makes some for deep and depressing reading. The statistics are grim: estimates say that nearly one in five women are victims of sexual assault during their time in the American higher education system.
The report aims to change that statistic, but it won't be easy. Our April 30 broadcast took the time to talk to advocates, reporters and change agents deeply involved in the campaign to help prevent and end college sexual assault. The entire hour is more than worth a listen, but we also were impressed with U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who has made sexual assault prevention and education a real highlight of this legislative session.
"I have college-aged daughters who have told me, unfortunately there is way too common an attitude that women who find themselves in a position where they have been a victim of a felony crime that they second-guess themselves," McCaskill told us.
"We haven't really put the systems in place that support victims and empower them so that we can hold these perpetrators accountable, and that's really what's missing with this silent epidemic on college campuses...
"We see more victims in their freshman year than we see in their subsequent years. And a lot of it is, these young women have to learn when they're being victimized. You don't have to have perfect judgement to be a victim of a crime. Just because you drank too much doesn't give anyone the right to commit a felony against you."
McCaskill said her aim is to focus on both victim support and enforcement of regulations that already exist.
"When someone has sex with someone that has not consented...that's a felony. We need to give these young women and young men who are victimized more information and more support so that they can face a process that frankly has been daunting."
The Senator has also been in the headlines for her work on reducing military sexual assault — which, while similar to college sexual assault, also brings up entirely new layers of complexity — and for her ongoing survey that asks colleges and universities to standardize their reporting process for sexual assaults.
"I'm convinced that we will not really turn this corner until we put some of these perpetrators in prison and send a message that this is criminal behavior," McCaskill said. "That will, in fact, empower victims, that will allow victims to understand that they were victims of a crime. It's not pleasant to think in those terms but that's what has to happen."
What do you think? How can we create systems that not only support the victims of college sexual assault, but prevent that assault from happening in the first place?
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