College presidents can’t downplay sexual assault

Though the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy is one that is often used to avoid dealing with uncomfortable situations, it should never be used to deny the frequency of sexual assault. 

However, a recent survey conducted by Inside Higher Education found that 68 percent of college presidents either disagreed or strongly disagreed that sexual assault was an issue on their campus, whereas 6 percent agreed or strongly agreed that it was. Given that over a hundred colleges and universities are now under a Title IX investigation by the Department of Education because of how they dealt with sexual violence, the confidence seen here is not only difficult to understand, but also alarming.

It’s ridiculous for the majority of presidents to deny the presence of sexual violence on their campuses, and it doesn’t matter if these schools aren’t under investigation. To have such widespread denial shows an assumption that sexual violence is someone else’s problem.

The reality, though, is that the problem is a collective one. As the Huffington Post reported, all campus-based surveys that have surfaced in recent years have shown the rate of women experiencing sexual assault lies between one in 10 and one in three. 

The reason these rates or the Title IX investigations taking place at FSU and USF can’t just be someone else’s problem is that the assumption can’t be that sexual assault doesn’t occur at a certain place just because instances of sexual assault are not reported.

Nationally, one in six women will be a victim of sexual assault, according to a survey by the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A study by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that one in four college women have survived attempted rape or rape during her life, and a more recent DOJ study found college students are less likely to report cases of sexual assault. 

This problem is so widespread that it’s never safe to say it doesn’t happen somewhere. 

Even if the perception that sexual assault isn’t an issue at a particular school isn’t enough, the Huffington Post reported the majority of presidents surveyed either did not think sexual assault was prevalent among schools or were neutral on the issue.

This oversight is troubling because it begs the question of what it will take for sexual assault to be a big enough problem to worry about. 

It’s scary to take the denial or neutral route when the University of Kansas thought it “too punitive” to make a student who admitted to rape do community service, or when the Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Texas Tech University reportedly had a sign at a party that read, “No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal.” Denying it as a national problem is even more problematic when even the White House launched a task force for sexual assault prevention on college campuses. 

Clearly, there’s no reason for anyone to minimize the issue of sexual assault, and ultimately it’s a problem that will be incredibly difficult to handle if someone, especially a college president, doesn’t believe it’s there in the first place. 

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