Sep 022015

Sexual Assault Legislation Likely to Die in Congress

Abby Mchan
September 1, 2015

Erin Munger, vice president of panhellenic standards at the University of Georgia, spent a summer in Washington, D.C. working with sexual assault legislation.

“As the federal government passes new legislation regarding sexual assault prevention and investigatory procedure, we will continue to ensure our members have an accurate and up-to-date understanding of the law and university policy,” Munger said.

And Munger worked specifically on one piece of legislation that has earned the support of national Greek organizations around the country. But that legislation has yet to move forward in Congress.

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act aims to improve how colleges handle sexual assault on campuses, by requiring student victims to report sexual assault, rather than a third party, in order for the case to be investigated by a university.

The bill would require universities to provide reporters of sexual assault with confidential consultation services. Universities would be fined if this law were broken.

Since a lot of media coverage on college sexual assault cases has involved Greek organizations, the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee is one of the bill’s largest supporters.

Michael Lynch, a University of Georgia associate professor of political science, said many might be too hopeful about the fate of this bill.
“Less than 5 percent of bills ever become law,” said Lynch, who focuses his studies on congressional politics. “Introducing a bill and passing it are wildly different activities.”

He said a bill must first go to committee, where it is often torn apart and will likely die.

“For the 110th Congress about six years ago, there were around 11,000 bills proposed,” Lynch said. “There were less than 1,000 that made it out of committee. And out of the 11,000 that were proposed, only 400 of them became law.”

Despite the bill’s uncertain future, UGA is still trying to implement measures that would help the university handle the reporting of rape and sexual assault.

Munger said UGA partnered this year with the Equal Opportunity Office and the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention group in order to introduce a new program for sororities and their new members.
“Our hope is that by providing proactive education, we can continue to work toward a rape and sexual assault-free campus,” Munger said.


Sep 012015



Contact: Gina Lauterio



 Due Process Gains Momentum, Moves to Center Stage in Campus Sexual Assault Debate


WASHINGTON / September 1, 2015 – A renewed focus on due process for students accused of sexual assault has emerged in recent months, as indicated by expressions of concern by law professors, a new federal legislative initiative, key judicial decisions, evolving media coverage, and upcoming public events.


The shift in the debate can be traced to public critiques of university sexual assault policies by faculty members at Harvard Law School, and later at Penn Law.  In May, 70 legal scholars wrote the American Law Institute regarding a proposed Model Penal Code on Sexual Assault that would over-criminalize sexual contact and remove the presumption of innocence:


In July, the Safe Campus Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill assigns lead investigative responsibility to local police and delineates a series of due process protections. The bill has been endorsed by the National District Attorneys Association, National Association of Scholars, and six other groups:


Four judicial decisions in the past two months have overturned the findings of campus sex tribunals for due process violations. The decisions involved the University of California-San Diego, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, Washington and Lee University, and University of Southern California:


Columnists have increasingly emphasized the need for due process and restoration of the presumption of innocence in campus assault cases. Over 600 editorials have been published in 2015 alone:


To date, 80 lawsuits have been filed against universities alleging due process violations:


During upcoming months, two events will further explore the need for due process protections:


On September 16, a public debate in New York City will examine the proposition, Courts, Not Campuses, Should Decide Sexual Assault Cases:


On October 8, an event titled Due Process Goes to School: How to Handle Campus Sexual Assault Cases will take place in Washington, DC:


“Due process represents a pillar of the American legal system,” notes SAVE spokesperson Sheryle Hutter. “Sadly, campus activists have ignored this fundamental precept for much too long.”



Stop Abusive and Violent Environments is working to promote effective solutions to campus sexual assault:

Aug 312015

The Big Lie Behind the Campus-Rape Crusade

Madison Iszler
August 27, 2015

What happens when the statistical basis for a massive, nationwide legislative push crumbles into dust? Absolutely nothing, if the subject is sexual assault on campus.

This year, more than half the states in the country considered legislation dealing with sexual assault on college campuses. California and New York enacted affirmative-consent policies, Connecticut and Virginia announced new laws intended to prevent sexual violence on campuses and last year President Obama created a task force designed to deal with what liberal political elites claimed was a startling rise in sexual assault.

But the very studies these politicians relied on don’t say what they have claimed — yet the “yes means yes” juggernaut rolls on.

A study by prominent psychologist David Lisak, “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Detected Rapists,” has been used by the federal government, schools and activists to justify policies slanted against the accused.

The report purportedly showed campus rapists as serial predators. “This report analyzes the most recent, reliable data about rape and sexual assault in our country,” Obama pronounced. The recent documentary “The Hunting Ground,” a film about campus “rape culture,” relies heavily on Lisak.

But, as a Reason Magazine investigation revealed, Lisak didn’t conduct the study himself. He pooled data from four separate studies directed by others at the University of Massachusetts-Boston between 1991-1998. The sample size was 1,882 men, ranging in age from 18-71. Of this group, the average subject was 26.5 years old — not exactly the age of the typical college student. What’s more, according to the university’s demographics, most students are commuters and don’t live on campus.

On the four surveys Lisak used, the bulk of the questions deal primarily with childhood experiences — only five questions asked about sexual violence possibly committed by the respondents as adults. Based on their responses, only 120 respondents may have committed or attempted rape, and of that number, a mere 76 qualified as repeat offenders, according to Lisak’s definition.

None of the surveys dealt with campus sexual assault. None of the questions “specifically ask[ed] about violence committed by or against students,” Reason reports.

Hardly a statistic strong enough to prove the serial-rapist claim.
Another frequently touted statistic, also asserted by President Obama as well as Gov. Cuomo, is the claim that one in five women on college campuses in the United States has been sexually assaulted or raped.
The statistic is derived from a 2007 study conducted by the National Institute of Justice, a division of the Justice Department, and directly studies campus sexual assault, unlike Lisak’s study.
But there are holes in this research, as well.

For starters, the study was conducted at “two large public universities, one in the South and one in the Midwest,” and the sample size was 5,446 undergraduate women — a “relatively low” response rate, two of the researchers told TIME.

The survey included women who had suffered rape and experienced other types of sexual assault, “such as forced kissing or unwanted groping of sexual body parts,” and of the women surveyed, 19 percent reported experiencing some form of sexual assault.

According to the two researchers, “To limit the statistic to include rape only, meaning unwanted sexual penetration, the prevalence for senior undergraduate women drops to 14.3%, or 1 in 7” at the universities studied.

The researchers said themselves that “there are caveats that make it inappropriate to use the 1-in-5 number in the way it’s being used today, as a baseline or the only statistic when discussing our country’s problem with rape and sexual assault on campus” and warned that “the 1-in-5 statistic is not a nationally representative estimate of the prevalence of sexual assault.”

A study conducted by the Department of Justice, released in late 2014, found that the actual rate of sexual assault of females on college campuses is 6.1 per 1,000 students — or about one-half of 1 percent. Plus, non-students are 25 percent more likely than students to suffer sexual assault — the rate for them is 7.6 per 1,000 people.

Those facts aren’t getting in school administrators’ way, however.
The University of Minnesota announced its affirmative-consent policy will be made official by the time school starts in September. And last week, California passed a law giving state community colleges jurisdiction in off-campus incidents of “sexual assault and sexual exploitation,” according to one lawmaker.

The desire to prevent campus rape is noble. Lawmaking based on false statistics, goosed numbers and ginned-up narratives is anything but.


Aug 312015

Contact: Gina Lauterio


Univ. of Minnesota Administrators Advance Controversial Sex Policy Without Full Review By Regents And Students

WASHINGTON / August 28, 2015 – Despite opposition from the campus community, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler announced he will be implementing an affirmative consent sexual assault policy this upcoming school year.  SAVE urges the Board of Regents to suspend the controversial policy at its upcoming September 9-10 meeting.

The policy will be implemented before students return to campus, meaning that students were not able to effectively express their concerns about the policy:

The new policy will require “affirmative consent” between any students engaging in sexual activity.  Under the policy, affirmative consent is defined as “informed, freely and affirmatively communicated willingness to participate in sexual activity that is expressed by clear and unambiguous words or actions.”  The policy requires that consent be continuous throughout the sexual activity:

If students are accused of failing to obtain affirmative consent at each step of a sexual activity, they are subject to disciplinary action, including expulsion from the university.

An “affirmative consent” policy will remove the presumption of innocence from accused students and trivialize the problem of violent rape, SAVE believes:

As explained by civil rights lawyer, Robert Shibley, “when these guidelines become binding rules that are adjudicated by campus courts, they effectively render students guilty until proven innocent.” Shibley warned, “Those accused, meanwhile, dare not forget a single detail of how that continuous consent was communicated each and every time they have sex.”:

“The new policy was enacted without the understanding or consent of the students,” notes SAVE spokesperson Sheryle Hutter. “It is dangerous to implement such a radical change without ever explaining how students are expected to be able to cope with it.”

SAVE recommends that the University Board of Regents table or suspend the policy at their September board meeting, while starting a serious review of the proposal and its consequences.

Stop Abusive and Violent Environments is working to promote effective solutions to campus sexual assault:

Aug 282015

The Campus Sex Scene: How Congress Can Make It Worse

Justin Dillon and Matt Kaiser
August 6, 2015

There are two rival bills in Congress addressing campus sexual assault. A nominally bipartisan bill spearheaded by Democrats Claire McCaskill and Mark Warner focuses on heaping more requirements on schools to turn their disciplinary systems into witch-hunts. Republicans in the House of Representatives, meanwhile, have introduced a bill that tries to balance protecting women from sexual assault with protecting the rights of those who have been accused of this horrible crime.

Right now, absent the case of a star athlete who the school needs for a championship shot, if a school receives a complaint by someone alleging sexual assault it has every incentive to find the male student guilty, regardless of what actually happened.

On the one hand, if the man is found not responsible – perhaps because he didn’t actually commit a sexual assault – the school can be sued by the woman, investigated by President Obama’s overly aggressive Department of Education, and publicly shamed.

For a quick example of these risks, look no further than what Emma Sulkowicz did to Columbia University. She alleged she was sexually assaulted. After reading numerous texts and Facebook messages from her that severely undermined her credibility, a campus panel exonerated the man she accused. So she staged a year-long protest by carrying her mattress around campus, which got her invited to Obama’s State of the Union address and forced Columbia to endure months of negative public attention. All for having a panel that took seriously its job of looking objectively at the evidence!

On the other hand, if the man is found responsible, there’s some risk of a lawsuit, but even then the school can use that as a vehicle to tout how much it’s doing to protect women because it will fight in court to defend its system.

Into this imbalance steps the Warren/McCaskill bill in the Senate. That bill would require schools to provide an advisor to women who are bringing rape allegations so that they can most effectively present their side of the story in a disciplinary hearing. It would also require schools to ask students whether they think their school is doing enough to combat campus sexual assault. In other words, fairness is now decided by a plebiscite of 18-year-olds. The Senate bill requires the adults to leave the room.

By contrast, the House Republican bill balances protecting women who have brought sexual assault charges with some protections to make the process fairer to men who have been accused. The bill gives men who are accused some basic protections that should be uncontroversial – the right to know what the charges are, to know what the evidence against them is, and to have a lawyer if they can afford one.

It also gives women who bring these charges the option of filing a complaint and starting a disciplinary proceeding – which would require that the case be referred to law enforcement – or not. If the woman decided that she didn’t want the case to go to law enforcement, the school could still put in place measures to keep the two students separate.

Requiring a law enforcement referral for there to be school discipline is an interesting response to those who think a finding that someone was responsible for a sexual assault should stay on the student’s transcript forever. If someone really is a sexual predator, they should be marked with a criminal conviction, not a transcript note. And if we’re going to mark people for the rest of their lives, we should give them the protections that we give people in our criminal courts. But that shouldn’t – and under the House bill doesn’t – require schools to abdicate a reasonable concern about keeping an accuser and accused separate.

For too long, the conversation around campus sexual assault has been long on rhetoric and short on reason. Politicians grubbing for attention have let slanted marginal horror stories drive bad policy. This is no way to decide an issue as important to the lives of our country’s college students.

We should all be able to agree that women shouldn’t be sexually assaulted and that men who are accused of sexual assault should be treated fairly. Yet that simple idea – supported by the House Republican bill – has been lost.
The response to the House Republican Bill has been predictable. Susan Merriman, a spokeswoman for SAFER Campus, a national advocacy group that supports the Warner/McCaskill Senate bill was frank about how she doesn’t care about basic fairness:

“We are not at a point to analyze ‘due process,’ when many survivors are publicly shamed on their campuses, when charges against assaulters can be dismissed out of hand by administrators, when an assaulter is allowed to sit across from a survivor and shout down their story.”

The Senate bill would codify this kind of self-righteous disregard for fairness. The measured bill by the House Republicans would balance safety and fairness in a responsible manner. One bill makes for a good press conference; the other makes for good law.

Matt Kaiser and Justin Dillon are partners at Kaiser, LeGrand & Dillon PLLC in Washington, D.C., and have represented dozens of students nationwide in campus sexual assault cases.


Aug 252015


Contact: Gina Lauterio


Four Rulings, Four Reversals: Judges Give ‘Thumbs Down’ on Campus Sex

WASHINGTON / August 25, 2015 – In four recent cases, judges have overturned sexual assault findings by campus disciplinary committees. In each case, the judges ruled the college proceedings lacked necessary due process protections. As the new academic year begins, these judicial decisions highlight the need for renewed focus on fairness in college sex assault cases, SAVE says.

In the most recent case, federal judge Norman Moon ruled that Washington and Lee University created a climate of gender discrimination that served to “railroad” students who are wrongly accused of sexual assault. The judge concluded the university’s bare-bones adjudication process “plausibly support a Title IX claim” by the plaintiff. See Doe v. Washington & Lee Univ.:

In a landmark case, Judge Carol McCoy ruled that the affirmative consent standard used by the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga was unfair because the rule “erroneously shifted the burden of proof” to the defendant, robbing the student of his due process rights. McCoy noted that “requiring the accused to affirmatively provide consent… is flawed and untenable if due process is to be afforded to the accused.”

In mid-August, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien barred the University of Southern California from expelling Bryce Dixon, a football player who was expelled on an allegation of sexual assault. The judge found that that the university’s sexual assault adjudication process was fundamentally unfair to accused students:

And in July, Superior Court Judge Joel Pressman overturned a decision to suspend a University of California-San Diego student based on an allegation that consent for sex had not been obtained. Concluding “the hearing against petitioner was unfair,” Judge Pressman found serious procedural flaws in the university’s handling of the case:

“The presumption of innocence and due process lie at the very heart of notions of fairness and justice,” notes SAVE spokesperson Sheryle Hutter. “Universities that flaunt these standards can expect to become the focus of judicial scrutiny.”

Lack of due process could be harmful to victims, as well. In a recent editorial, columnist Ashe Schow highlighted the fact that faulty campus procedures “could also mean an actual rapist would be able to use the legitimate justice system to have his expulsion overturned.”

SAVE recommends that colleges forward allegations of sexual assault to local police for investigation and possible prosecution.

Stop Abusive and Violent Environments is working to promote effective solutions to campus sexual assault:

Aug 242015

Debating ‘Yes Means Yes’ Policies

Ashe Schow
August 24, 2015

The Dallas Morning News has published a balanced opinion piece allowing a representative for both sides of the “yes means yes” debate to present their ideas. Samuel R. Staley, a research fellow at the libertarian Independent Institute, argues that the approach is “unreasonable and unworkable.”

Staley notes that relationship counselors recognize the need to build trust within relationships, and that trust and intimacy is built through “verbal, nonverbal and behavioral actions,” which are sometimes legally ambiguous. But, Staley argues, “yes means yes” policies presume that sex is “unwanted and destructive,” codifying into law rules that make building trust difficult.

Indeed, it’s difficult to build trust when every step of every sexual encounter – even between committed partners – requires a verbal “yes” in order to be considered consensual. One wrong move, one forgotten question and the encounter may be defined as rape, unless no one reports it.

Staley also raises the important fact that “[m]ost rapes and attempted rapes are not committed by perpetrators who would be stopped because the person they’re with has not verbalized a yes.” Normal human sexual activity does not involve question-and-answer session foreplay, meaning “yes means yes” policies would criminalize normal human interactions.

“Moreover, ‘yes means yes’ legislation effectively criminalizes millions of actions by individuals and partners that do not lead to rape or sexual assault,” Staley wrote. “Rape and sexual assault still occur at unacceptably high levels, but the solution is not to criminalize normal, healthy behavior.”

I’ve written about this aspect of “yes means yes” before. Under these policies, all sex is rape unless one follows the rules set forth under the policy. And even then, unless one can prove they obtained consent under these policies, the existence of a “yes” every step of the way is meaningless.

Belinda Guthrie, the Title IX coordinator at Santa Clara University, wrote for the proponents of “yes means yes.” She said the policies are necessary because schools have in the past failed to address sexual assault.

“Policies not based on this standard require evidence of force or resistance by the complainant in order for a college or university to conclude that consent was not sought or obtained,” Guthrie wrote.

Yes, curse the old way of doing things, when evidence of an attack was required!

Guthrie points out that critics of “yes means yes” policies claim they shift the burden of proof onto the accused, will increase false reports and do nothing to solve “he said, she said” accusations. She then goes on to discuss the need for fair and “equitable” procedures for colleges to adjudicate sexual assault. But, she argues, such procedure improvements shouldn’t force schools not to adopt “yes means yes.”

She does acknowledge, however, that without fair procedures (she avoids the term “due process”), the critics of “yes means yes” will be proved correct.

So far, the critics seem to be sadly correct.


Aug 242015

Title IX Officer Describes Inherent Flaws in ‘Yes Means Yes’ Policies, Says Let’s Do Them Anyway

Greg Piper
August 24, 2015

The Title IX coordinator at Santa Clara University, a Catholic school with very un-Catholic faculty, knows exactly what’s wrong with “affirmative consent” policies that require an accused student to prove he got sexual consent from his partner.

But Belinda Guthrie thinks that good people can magically overcome bad policies.

In a Dallas Morning News debate column with the Independent Institute’s Samuel Staley, “yes means yes” supporter Guthrie correctly describes the problems with reversing innocent-until-proven-guilty:

Critics of affirmative consent argue it places an undue burden on the initiator of the sexual activity to prove that he or she had consent and violates the due process rights of the accused.

They argue that such policies will lead to an increase of false reporting of sexual assault after incidents that are, in truth, regretted sexual encounters but nonetheless consensual.

Critics also argue that affirmative consent policies are impractical and impossible to enforce and do nothing to improve the resolution of cases involving “he said, she said” arguments and cases in which one or both parties were intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.

These are weighty criticisms that go to the core of yes-means-yes policies, but Guthrie, who is also a consultant with the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, gives no direct answer to them:

Fundamental fairness and due process requires schools to conduct a thorough, reliable, fair and prompt investigation carried out by an experienced, trained and impartial investigator. …

Under Title IX, a school’s procedures and processes must be equitable to complainant and the respondent and must be consistently followed in every case.

A comprehensive and equitable approach to responding to sexual violence on college campuses is necessary, or the critics of affirmative consent will be proved right.

Someone might want to tell Guthrie that an “equitable” approach must provide an accused student a way to defend himself other than videorecording the entirety of his sexual encounter, which must also clearly, audibly and intelligibly indicate that his partner consented throughout the act.


Aug 242015

Freshman Orientation Adds Material on Affirmative Consent

Jacqueline Thomsen
August 19, 2015

When students at Indiana University at Bloomington are asked to describe consent, they can often recite the lyrics from a student-written musical.
“Consent is unmistakable … it’s often verbal … it’s uncoerced … it’s freely given … and if you’ve got those things together, that’s consent! Consent … whoa consent!” (The full lyrics of the song are at the bottom of this story.)
And as college campuses across the country adapt to a culture — and legislation — calling for affirmative consent and “yes means yes” policies, freshmen orientations are often just one touch point for a larger conversation about sexual misconduct policies across campuses. Many colleges are adding programming or are revising past education on sexual assault prevention to focus on teaching the ideas behind affirmative consent, although some institutions already had relevant programs in place.
The entire Indiana University system revamped its sexual misconduct policy in March, calling for affirmative consent from students participating in sexual acts and clearly outlining resources for students who are seeking to report an incident or find other sources of support. Under affirmative consent, both parties must indicate that they want to participate in a sexual act, either verbally or with specific actions — and the lack of a no isn’t enough to continue.
Carol McCord, the associate dean of students at the Bloomington campus, said little had to be changed in programming for students this year to adapt to the new policy. Students will continue to be required to complete an online module on sexual assault and misconduct before coming to campus, and at orientation will see a musical, written by a student who has since graduated, that ends with a song about consent.
“It sounds cheesy, but let me tell you that many students will tell us that they remember the definition of consent from that song and sing it to us later,” McCord said.
This year, after viewing the musical, the incoming students will take part in discussions led by their student orientation leaders, who have been trained to lead the conversations by administrators and other university officials, including McCord. The doors to the rooms where the conversations are taking place are kept ajar so officials can check and make sure discussions are staying on track.
McCord said parents also attend an orientation to explain university policies, but tend to be focused on topics that aren’t as prevalent on campuses, like the presence of nonstudents, faculty or staff on campus or the placement of blue lights, a feature that can ease the concerns of worried parents but that are rarely actually used effectively. Education on consent will be included in the presentation, including information on how students can file a report of sexual violence or harassment and other university resources available for students.
She said programming on consent and other related topics will continue throughout the academic year. This year, for the first time, posters with information on university resources will be placed in bathroom stalls in each building across campus.
But above all, McCord said, she and others have focused on making sure that students are able to recognize consent when they have it, and also acknowledge when they don’t have affirmative consent.
“The reality is, that while we must have the university definition, legally and judicially, the reality is that we want them to understand what students need to have consent,” she said. “They don’t need the actual verbatim definition, but they have to be clear when they have it, they need to be clear when they do not have it, clear on how to get it and how to intervene if they see people going forward who can’t give consent.”
A Statewide Approach
As sexual assault becomes a more prominent topic on college campuses, more and more institutions are adopting — or being forced to adopt — affirmative consent policies. Legislation in California and New York requires campuses in both states to include affirmative consent in their sexual misconduct policies, meaning that students, faculty and staff must now be trained using “yes means yes.” This is the first year that all orientations in the states will be covered by these laws.
Within the State University of New York system, each campus is adapting its own way to teach about affirmative consent, building on the system’s involvement in crafting the New York legislation. Joseph Storch, an associate counsel at SUNY, was one of the leaders in creating the legal language about consent.
“As the most comprehensive system of higher education in the country, SUNY has the capacity — and frankly, a responsibility — to serve as the national model,” said a statement from Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. “We are proud to fulfill a leadership role as colleges and universities across the country are challenged to prevent and effectively address incidents of sexual assault and violence. We will continue to work with our students and faculty to increase awareness and ensure safety on SUNY campuses, and our experts are happy to work with others nationally to do the same.”
And at private institutions in New York, each college has adopted the new mandated language. At Daemon College, in Buffalo, parents and students attend orientation sessions on consent as well as on dating violence and other similar topics. The students then complete online training before returning to campus for the start of the semester, where they again attend a theatrical performance and discuss the topics, including affirmative consent, during a first-year seminar course.
“I think one of the things is that unless you have context for the information, it’s hard to understand it,” said Greg Nayor, vice president for student affairs at Daemon. “It’s not that the content is all that challenging …. There’s no silver bullet to do this, but people have this information in a variety of different ways, and they don’t realize that they need it until they need it.”
St. Bonaventure University in New York also takes on a three-phase approach, including skits on life on campus (one of which centers on sexual violence) and workshops to discuss the skits at orientations, an online module and a class called The Hook-Up, presented to students by an outside company during the first week on campus.
Students are also asked to reflect on what they learned during orientation and other training during a course called University 101, which is taken by all freshmen.
And at a Roman Catholic university, where premarital sex isn’t always considered a socially acceptable topic of conversation, the training is a priority for officials and administrators, said Chris Brown, St. Bonaventure’s director of first-year experience and orientation.
“We’re a relatively small campus — our incoming freshman class is just under 400 — so we do have the ability to tailor a lot of these programs to this small-scale audience and repeat information in different methods and different ways.”
At Molloy College, in Long Island, students will undergo training and role playing in a session called “Are You Getting the Signal?” Students receive materials outlining college policies and discuss the topic of consent at least five times during orientation. A survey is also administered to freshmen during the sessions, gauging how many have had previous experience with relationship violence.
But at larger, urban campuses like Columbia University and New York University, administrators emphasized repetitive training to get information across to the entire student body.
Incoming freshmen at Columbia receive materials over the summer before starting classes and are also required to reflect on the link between sexual respect and participation in a university community, whether it’s through watching films and participating in discussions or creating a piece of art as a part of the reflection.
Columbia’s sexual assault policies fell under a national spotlight last year when a student carried a mattress with her on campus in protest of a university ruling that her alleged assaulter was not at fault in a complaint she filed in 2013.
Students benefit from both large discussions during orientation and smaller ones with their resident advisors, said Suzanne Goldberg, the executive vice president for university life at Columbia.
“I think part of what’s important is that education and engagement on these issues extends well beyond orientation and aims to shape an environment that supports all students and reinforces the link between sexual respect and community citizenship,” Goldberg said.
At New York University, matriculating students of all levels participate in online training, student leaders — including members of Greek life, varsity athletes and members of the executive boards of NYU’s student clubs — receive bystander training, and freshmen see a theatrical performance put on by members of the Tisch School of the Arts.
Voluntary workshops focused solely on consent in different communities, such as for LGBT students, are also offered throughout the year, meaning that the education doesn’t end for students once classes start.
Zoe Ragouzeos, the associate vice president for sexual misconduct support services at NYU, said that so many options are offered in order to reach as many of the university’s roughly 50,000 students as possible and get an important message about consent across.
“If I had 800 freshmen and I could put all of them in an auditorium and make them listen to what I have to say, it’d be a different situation for us,” Ragouzeos said. “But the fact is that we have 6,000 new students, 22,000 undergraduate students, and it makes us have to make as many things as possible mandatory so we can make sure that people have a basic understanding.”
When you’re havin’ a good night
And things are goin’ well
But you don’t know where it’s goin’
It’s sometimes hard to tell
So if you think it’s goin’ somewhere
And you might go all the way
There’s something you gotta ask for
There’s something you need to say!
You gotta get … consent!
If you think you’re gonna do it, you need consent.
Consent … whoa consent
If you’re waitin’ to go further you need consent
Consent … whoa consent
So if you’re hangin’ with your girl
You think you might go for a whirl
All you’ve got to do … is get consent!
Consent … whoa consent …”
“Consent is unmistakable … it’s often verbal … it’s uncoerced … it’s freely given … and if you’ve got those things together, that’s consent! Consent … whoa consent!”


Aug 242015

Debate Grows Over Proposed Sexual Consent Policy at U

Natalie Daher
August 22, 2015

For students like Mills Myntti-Selkregg who are entering college this fall, discussions of sexual assault prevention are nothing new.

“It’s not necessarily been shoved down my throat, but I’m made very, very aware of what a healthy sexual relationship is versus not,” said Myntti-Selkregg, who will be a student at the University of Minnesota.

As she and her fellow freshmen prepare to arrive on campus on Sept. 2, controversy is building over a proposed affirmative consent policy that was tabled earlier in the summer. It stipulates that sex is OK only if both parties agree with “clear and unambiguous words or actions.” Otherwise, the incident would be defined as sexual assault.

Critics say the policy is impractical and perhaps even violates civil rights. Proponents argue that it’s a vital tool in the battle against sexual abuse and are angry that U administrators have delayed implementation.

A student-driven online petition has garnered more than 1,600 signatures pressing for it to be in place before classes begin on Sept. 8. Student leaders say their urgency is rooted in statistics that show the most sexual assaults occur on U.S. college campuses between Labor Day and Thanksgiving.

The policy was to take effect in July, but U President Eric Kaler delayed it for review by the Board of Regents, which won’t meet again until September. Kaler, who supports the policy, and the Board of Regents are “still in limbo” about its implementation, spokesman Matt Sumera said last week. Kaler’s action predated revelation of the sexual harassment case of former athletic director Norwood Teague.

The proposal is an example of how the sexual landscape on campuses is rapidly changing. Students are demanding change, and administrators are reworking policies, revamping education programs and revising standards for reporting and handling cases.

They’re also making new hires. The U is taking applications for the first men’s engagement coordinator, whose duties will include coaching students about what constitutes sexual assault.

“It’s really healthy for universities to be experimenting and trying different approaches,” said Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of the Washington-based Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). “The important thing is that they start the education very early, as soon as the student gets to campus — or even sooner, before that student enters college.”

Affirmative consent policies like the U is proposing are in place in California and New York, and have been challenged both by civil-liberties groups that say they unfairly place the burden of proof on the accused and by others who say they are unrealistic. Supporters counter that the polices raise awareness of the issues and open the door to dialogue.

The delay in implementation of the U’s policy is “not going to help with the culture shift,” said student body president Joelle Stangler, who created the petition demanding quick action. She is worried that delaying it until after the school year starts will result in students getting different perceptions of what is expected of them.

RAINN has not taken a stance on the policy, Berkowitz said. While some survivors of sexual violence with whom he works favor the policy, others have said it chalks up too much of the problem to miscommunication.

New ways of thinking

Stangler attributes the hesitance to outdated attitudes about sex.

“We just need to reflect and reorient the way we think about it,” she said. “That also doesn’t go back and retroactively make everybody a rapist in the same way that if you hazed someone during your college years, you’re not a terrible person just because you didn’t know any better.”

Consent policies aren’t new. One was proposed in Ohio in 1991, but it wasn’t taken seriously, even spawning a skit on “Saturday Night Live.”

Today’s student leaders and state legislators aren’t laughing. California became the first state to mandate affirmative consent in October, followed by New York last month.

Even though it’s not official U policy, the on-campus Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education introduced the notion of affirmative consent during orientation programs over the summer. Melissa Markay, who’s starting at the university this fall, saw the presentation.

“I’ve never been taught about seeking consent,” she said. “People assume, ‘Oh, guys always want sex.’ ”

Engaging all genders

Discussions of sexual violence don’t often bring men into the equation as victims or perpetrators, said Katie Eichele, director of the Aurora Center, a resource center focused on sexual assault.

“The sexual violence movement has the brand that it’s mostly a women’s issue, so what space does that leave for men?” she asked.

That’s why the university is hiring a men’s engagement coordinator, she said. One of his responsibilities will be to hold “friendship labs.”

“We want to create spaces for men to think about: Where did I actually learn that behavior? Do I actually believe that? What do I actually stand for?” Eichele said.

Another effort, called the Minnesota Sex Academy, was developed by student leaders to generate discussion about sexual assault. The fictional academy’s video called “Just the Tips” has accrued more than 1,400 views on YouTube since April. In it, a lecturer stands in front of a whiteboard outlining various scenarios and talking points that could lead to consensual sex.

New roles also have emerged in Greek life. Patrick English, a rising senior and member of Pi Kappa Alpha, is the first sexual assault prevention coordinator for the Interfraternity Council, a role he assumed in January.

English, who addresses issues like healthy behaviors and affirmative consent, has received mixed responses. In conversations about affirmative consent, he’s heard that it would kill the mood or create a gray area.

“What is a better mood than knowing that all parties want to move on?” he’s responded.

In that vein, he maintains that making sure sex is consensual is not a debatable issue.

“I don’t know how asking someone for permission and making sure you have permission is a gray area,” he said.