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Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

In our opinion: Resources needed to guarantee sexual violence is discovered, investigated and prosecuted

Deseret News editorial

Published: Wed, Aug. 13 12:00 a.m. MDT

 University of Oregon student Samantha Cohen, center, joins a hundred fellow protesters in the lobby of Johnson Hall on the UO campus in Eugene, Ore. Thursday May 8, 2014 to demand answers from school officials in the wake of allegations of sexual assault by three UO basketball players. A report was issued last week by a White House task force on sexual assault at U.S. colleges.

University of Oregon student Samantha Cohen, center, joins a hundred fellow protesters in the lobby of Johnson Hall on the UO campus in Eugene, Ore. Thursday May 8, 2014 to demand answers from school officials in the wake of allegations of sexual assault by three UO basketball players. A report was issued last week by a White House task force on sexual assault at U.S. colleges.

(Chris Pietsch, Associated Press)

There is growing evidence that incidents of sexual assault on college campuses are under-reported and not always vigorously investigated or prosecuted. Recent efforts in Washington to compel colleges to address the problem are appropriate, although there are important questions as to whether they will be able to achieve the necessary results.

A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate would require colleges to conduct surveys on the frequency of assault and publish the findings or face serious financial penalties. The measure follows the release this year of a study by the White House Council on Women and Girls that indicates one in five women has been assaulted while attending college.

The number is shocking, and it clearly demonstrates the problem is big enough to earn top priority among colleges as well as law enforcement agencies. The Senate bill would create a public database of campus assault that would be a valuable starting point for assessing the particulars of the problem, but the bill does not provide funding or other mechanisms to guarantee that necessary investigative and prosecutorial efforts can be stepped up.

Simply requiring schools to survey and report on incidents of assault won’t prevent future assaults. Only aggressive investigative efforts will have that effect. But the federal agency primarily responsible for handling complaints of how educational institutions deal with sexual violence lacks the staff and funding levels to aggressively address the issue.

The federal Office of Civil Rights lacks a permanent staff position assigned to handle complaints of sexual violence under federal Title IX statutes. The office has half the staff it had in 1980 when it received far fewer complaints, according to the office of Sen. Karen Gillibrand, D-New York, a sponsor of the bill. Even so, the office is currently investigating no fewer than 55 colleges for how they have handled sex assaults.

Separate from the Senate bill, President Obama has created a task force in response to his council’s report and given it 90 days to report back on the best practices to attack the problem. It would be surprising if the task force does not address the issue of proper funding for enforcement programs — something the Senate legislation ignores.

As it sits, the Senate bill’s chief focus seems to be shaming colleges into dealing with the problem. The degree to which schools attach priority to the issue may vary from campus to campus, but suggesting schools are calloused or even willfully negligent when it comes to sexual assault is not fair.

In Utah, the problem is certainly a matter of heightened concern. As one example, Utah State University has been recognized by federal officials for efforts in spreading awareness and making resources available for concerned students.

Sexual violence, particularly against young women, is a problem of greater prevalence than society has perhaps been willing to acknowledge. It’s important that colleges and other institutions are required to be alert to the problem; it’s more important that resources are in place to guarantee that every instance of sexual violence is discovered, investigated and prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law.

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1. marxist
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 13, 2014

Sexual violence and abuse against women is a major problem in all societies including our own. Such violence occurs in all manner of venues including marriage. Yes, women are raped in the marital relationship. When a woman says "no" in must always mean "no."

As a society we don't take this seriously.

2. pleasehelp
wvc, ut,
Aug. 13, 2014

Only a small percentage of men rape others, but often that tiny number are serial rapists and they will rape again and again, especially if they know the school and police will say it is "he said/she said" "consensual" and never give any kind of consequence. So those colleges and police that protect and don't give any consequence for the serial rapists will have multiple more rapes to deal with for years from the same serial rapists. Also, remember, many men are raped too, often by other men as hazing in the locker room for sports, clubs, bands and at frat houses, and for male victims, they are even more reluctant to feel shame and not ask for help or go public. Often male on male rape is excused as "boys being boys" "can't you take a joke" hazing that involves many, many junior members of the frat, sports team or club.

3. LOU Montana
Pueblo, CO,
Aug. 13, 2014

"He is from such a good family and she, well, she is from the other side of town and her family is a non-member."

There you have it, end of the case.

4. ordinaryfolks
seattle, WA,
Aug. 13, 2014

How can anyone dispute this? There is no political argument against enforcing laws, nor enacting laws to protect young woman.

And, please, please, Tea Partyer's and Constitutional Conservatives, don't play this as a gambit to turn us further toward some sort of leftist dictatorship. It is about protecting your daughters.

5. John Charity Spring
Back Home in Davis County, UT,
Aug. 13, 2014

This is an important issue. We must put an end to sexual violence. Part of that effort is better reporting systems, but that won't be enough.

The vast majority of campus rapes are alcohol related. Access to alcohol on campus must be eliminated if we are really serious about ending sexual assault. Although it is politically incorrect, we must also encourage college students not to get drunk at parties off campus.

We cannot stop there. Far too many campuses permit the viewing of movies and video games which depict violence and wanton sexuality. We must cease to be surprised when young people who immerse themselves in this sort of entertainment begin to imitate what they see.