The United States is considered to be one of the safest countries in the world, by general standards. However, one issue that America has grappled with for decades is sexual assault at college and university campuses. Granted, America is not the only country in which this is an issue but statistically, it is one of the worst. In America alone, one in five women, and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted before they graduate. While legal actions (Like then-president Obama’s action Title IX) have been put into place to ensure that institutions act on sexual assault allegations and provide victims with necessary protection from their assailants, there are also assertions that victims endure more than the memory of their ordeal once they pursue legal action.
Research proves that sexual assault on college campuses is evident across the nation, and yet despite this fact, there are comparatively few incidents that are reported, and even fewer again that make it to trial. Of the cases that do go to trail, the victim is then made to endure what can be a lengthy process to determine if the legal system believes them. The problem is that victims that are courageous enough to come forward with their story are then subjected to not only recollecting their horrific ordeal, but also vigorous questioning about their tolerance for alcohol and substance intake and their appearance at the time of the assault, among other invasive questions. While this line of questioning is no doubt necessary to get the upmost detail for legal records, the fact remains the same: a victim’s miscalculation of their own tolerance does not register them a criminal, and it by no means absolves the perpetrator of responsibility and guilt. A study conducted at nine colleges in 2015 found that a staggering 38.5% of female students experienced sexual assault in the 2014-2015 school year. Nearly half of the female population at nine schools had experienced sexual assault in just one year. While the statistics speak for themselves, the awareness of the rights and procedures that a victim has access to post-offence has seemingly only increased over the last decade.
Students that seek to take legal action against the accused are often overwhelmed regarding their circumstances, and the financial strain that weeks (sometimes months) of legal proceedings can have on the victim often puts additional pressure on an already extremely serious situation. The legal process when a victim intends to take their assailant to court is often described as being “life-consuming”, and the seeking of lawsuit settlement funds (as described on the Legal-Bay website) enables victims to ease, at the very least, the financial burden of pursuing legal action against the guilty. Funding a lawsuit of any nature is both time consuming and financially testing, but if victims are aware of their rights and options going into the lawsuit process, they can enlist in financial support from their legal representation that gives them peace of mind until their ultimate settlement. Alongside the financial opportunities afforded to victims during their case, there are the legal processes in place to provide victims with the safest, most secure process possible after their assault.
In January 2014, then-President Obama and VP Biden introduced the White House’s Task Force, put in place to protect students from sexual assault. Title IX was put in place to ensure that students would not experience discrimination based on their gender, and that students would be able to access education in an environment free of sexual assault. The enforcement of Title IX ensured that students and victims alike would have the accommodations to help them achieve said safe environment and it is a right that was, until recently, protected by law.
In short, the school that a victim attended had to take full responsibility and action to ensure the safety of said victim and of the general student body. Recently, Department of Education’s Secretary DeVos countered some of the workings of Title IX and argued that the notion of the school weakening due process rights to better serve the victim would, in fact, only serve to create more victims. It is a point that speaks for itself – while the basic rule of institutions taking action in regards to sexual assault claims was positive, the system was used and abused by individuals who were not in fact victims of sexual crimes. This continued abuse of the system led to countless false accusations, innocent people’s reputations being maimed, and the overwhelming accountability of the institutions involved.
The biggest issue with Title IX however, is not the reporting of assaults to the institutions, but the fact that the schools should not be the first point of contact post-assault. It is the decision put in place with Title IX’s enforcement about who the initial contact (and response) after the assault should be that is of most concern. While institutions have a responsibility to their students to ensure their safety, once an assault occurs the first point of contact should be the police. There are numerous reasons for this; the obvious need for an immediate police report, the medical procedures that must take place to document evidence, the school’s risk of loss of financial income and reputation, to name some of the most predominant. Title IX forbids sexual discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding (this being the clear majority of schools). While these schools are legally required to respond and alleviate unsafe aspects of the educational environment – the failure to do so being a violation that potentially results in loss of federal funding – the process in court (if the case even makes it so far) is taxing on both the victim and the institution in which they attend.
The epidemic of sexual assault on college and university campuses in America is one that puts victims in impossible circumstances – circumstance in which they are required to either stay silent in fear or take action in uncertainty. The legal and financial procedures put in place to protect victims and to seek justice for the crimes of the accused are intended to make the educational grounds of America safe. While the current statistics and legal procedures are a work in progress, it remains clear that the only acceptable response to these crimes is to do everything possible to ensure that the ramifications for sexual crimes are nothing less than the strictest and most dependable possible.
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