NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault recently selected the Center of Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) at Rutgers University’s School of Social Work to “pilot” a campus climate survey on sexual assault.
The Task Force was created on January 22, to address this issue in a time when many universities neglect, ignore, and harass victims of sexual assault on campus.
Rutgers is the only university in the country selected to implement the survey, which is designed to “identify the scope of sexual assault on college campuses.”
The survey will be administered to students on October 27 through November 9, as part of a project on campus called iSpeak.
Sarah McMahon, acting co-director of VAWC and leader of the survey, said, “We named it iSPEAK because it gives students a voice that they may not have had before.”
Protecting students and participant confidentiality are of the utmost importance to VAWC and the Task Force. Participants will not be linked to their responses.
The survey will be available to Rutgers-New Brunswick students online at the Rutgers School of Social Work’s website through November 9.
VAWC will enter participating students in a raffle where participants can win one of fifty cash prizes valuing up to three hundred dollars.
Students will also be able to take the survey in person at the following locations:
- October 27, 1:30 – 4:30 College Avenue Student Center, 126 College Avenue
- October 27, 4:30 – 7:30 Livingston Student Center, 61 Joyce Kilmer Avenue (Piscataway)
- October 29, 11:00 – 2:00 Livingston Dining Hall, 85 Avenue E (Piscataway)
- October 29, 4:30 – 7:30 Douglas Student Center, 100 George Street
- October 30, 11:00 – 2:00 Brower Commons, 125 College Avenue
The US Department of Education is currently investigating over 85 colleges for possible violations of federal law regarding the handling of complaints of sexual violence and harassment.
At least one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college. The actual number is estimated to be much higher due to underreporting.
Only two percent of incapacitated sexual assault survivors and thirteen percent of forcible rape survivors report the crime to campus or local law enforcement.
Victims often choose not to report because they fear reprisal by the perpetrator, fear negative treatment by family, peers, and authority, and because some blame themselves and do not recognize they were raped.
In approximately eighty percent of cases, the victim knows their attacker: an acquaintance, friend, classmate, or romantic partner. Many victims are incapacitated – drunk, drugged, asleep, or passed out – at the time of assault.
University administrators nationwide have been known to participate in victim blaming (pressing the victim about alcohol use, sexual history, or outfits worn at the time of assault) and sweeping sexual assault under the rug in order to boost the school’s reputation and attract more competitive students.
Even when cases are processed, the punishments for perpetrators are lax. Much to the victim’s dismay, attackers are not usually expelled from school, creating an unsafe environment for students everywhere.
Rutgers was chosen to pilot the survey because of its leading research institute on violence against women (VAWC) and long history of favorable treatment toward sexual assault survivors.
Rutgers founded its office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA), the first and one of the only ones of its kind, in 1991. VPVA offers “counseling and advocacy services, educational programming, and training, consultation and policy development services to all members of the University community.”
The Task Force’s Survey Toolkit explains that the campus climate survey will reveal two important facets of information: prevalence of sexual assault on campus and perceptions of campus climate, defined as “attitudes among students, faculty, and administrators regarding sexual assault.”
Perceptions are important because they help increase understanding of a number of issues such as “students’ knowledge about reporting policies and resources for victims, their attitudes about prevention, and their perceptions about how their community is addressing the problem of sexual violence.”
John Schafhauser, a research associate at VAWC, says that the results will be used to “better understand how sexual assault is perceived among college students, determine ways to strengthen current prevention and intervention efforts on college campuses and to demystify stereotypes.”
After the survey has been administered, the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women will be responsible for evaluating the results and refining the survey. Other schools will be required to administer the survey by 2016.
If you have been sexually assaulted, the New Jersey Coalition against Sexual Assault has a toll-free 24-hour crisis hotline at 1-800-601-7200
For Rutgers students, services and resources are offered at the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance who can be reached at 848-932-1181.
Christina reports on politics, focusing on elections, women's issues, and labor. She is an East Brunswick native and proud Rutgers graduate.