Amid a prolonged effort to increase transparency for sexual assault on college campuses, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton released a rough proposal to combat sexual assault last Monday in Iowa. The plan, which encourages implementing a sexual assault survivor network, increasing support, instituting procedures for treatment of the accused and enlarging existing programs, should inspire more concrete changes that directly address sexual assault here at USC.
Though Clinton’s plan is set in a political context, there’s no need for party politics in this discussion. The process by which policymakers and administrators tackle this issue should begin with the notion to not simply condemn the attackers and their assault, but to focus all efforts on ceasing it in its entirety. This is not a conversation that divides, but one that brings individuals together. There is a common sense of disdain for the increasing number of college students who report that they have undergone forced or unwarranted sexual acts, yet have failed to report their experience.
Last spring, USC administrators began their movement against sexual assault with the “Think About It” series. In conjunction with these efforts, USC and 26 other American universities participated in the Association of American Universities’ Campus Climate Survey. On Monday, USC Provost Michael Quick and Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry released a comprehensive letter with USC’s troubling results.
For undergraduate students and graduate students, there was a stark contrast among reported responses for sexual assault. According to the report, approximately 66 percent of female and 45 percent of male undergraduate students have experienced sexual harassment. Most unsettlingly, however, was that 76 percent of females and 70 percent of males believed that their involvement in sexual assault was not serious enough to report. These results reveal a shocking ineffectiveness of sexual assault education programs on campus, which should inform students of acts considered as assault.
USC must recognize that most sexual assault cases occur during parties with heavy drinking. The Department of Public Safety officers who monitor parties on the Row and in the surrounding community should be adequately trained to handle these situations. But if students feel uncomfortable speaking with DPS officers, USC must offer more options. This is not limited to on-call trained representatives to handle reports of sexual assault and a safe space treatment center which has student or faculty representatives who are trained to speak to victims of assault.
The use of private university tuition funding for sexual assault response training for DPS officers would be extremely beneficial for USC. Administrators should enforce more stringent sexual assault education in conjunction with stronger support networks among students. The current “Trojans Care for Trojans” webpage should be expanded to include trained counselors and physicians on campus to respond to victims of sexual assault.
Past efforts among public policy leaders have failed to make justifiable change. At the national level, President Barack Obama worked to allow everyone to become a part of the discussion of sexual assault by announcing his “It’s On Us” plan in September 2014. But in his discussions, and for many other leading figures for sexual assault prevention, the commonly cited statistic that 1 in 5 female undergraduate students experience sexual assault needs to be pushed further — more types of studies need to be conducted with results individualized for different college campuses. And the AAU Campus Climate Survey provides a strong step forward in discussing specialized numbers for specific assault categories at top universities in the nation.
In order to make these proposed changes no longer necessary in the future, we must universally accept the concept of normative growth — the constantly ingrained conventional norms — at a young age. Clinton considers this notion by proposing early awareness and understanding of sexual assault. Starting as early as fifth grade, students should understand the importance of obtaining consent. We must acknowledge sexual assault as unacceptable and align it with societal, moral and legal implications.
Sarah Dhanaphatana is a junior majoring in political science. She is also deputy features editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Dhanapolitics,” runs Fridays.