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US Senate releases survey, finds weak sexual assault policies on college campuses

UNC has not been alone in facing criticism for its treatment of sexual assault survivors — a U.S. Senate report released last week found widespread deficiencies in nearly every stage of campuses’ handling of sexual assault.

Donna Greco, a supervisor at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said the report validates what advocates have learned from the field.

“(There’s) just this need for more support on the campuses to really better understand the climate of sexual violence and to make sure survivors have access to support and resources,” she said.

UNC convened a task force in May 2013 to draft a new, comprehensive policy for the University’s handling of sexual assault.

Sarah-Kathryn Bryan, the student representative for UNC’s sexual assault task force, said the report’s findings would have been useful had it been published a year ago.

The report surveyed 440 colleges and universities, and its findings include the failure to encourage reporting occurrences of sexual violence, inadequate support for survivors and the lack of prevention and awareness trainings for faculty and students.

Bryan said it is possible but unlikely for the report to affect UNC’s new sexual assault policy.

“Even though it’s significant, and it was ordered by a senator, this is just one of many studies in the growing field of studying sexual violence,” she said.

The work of UNC’s task force is among the most comprehensive seen by Andrea Pino, a recent UNC graduate and activist, she said.

But Pino said institutions need to achieve more than just compliance with federal regulations.

“I think it’s definitely important for UNC to be much more committed to this issue and to look at it as much more than committed compliance,” Pino said. “And I think it can.”

The Clery Act addresses colleges’ campus safety policies and the reporting of crime statistics. Additionally, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination of students on the basis of sex.

Overhauling UNC’s sexual assault policy is overdue, and it has come only after Pino co-filed a federal complaint in January 2013 for the University’s handling of her sexual assault case, she said.

“There simply weren’t rapists, apparently, because they weren’t being found responsible,” she said.

Greco said no cookie-cutter approach exists to preventing sexual assault.

“The best prevention is responsive to the unique strengths and needs of your community,” she said.

For some, that may require greater involvement from athletic departments and Greek organizations.

More than 20 percent of institutions in the U.S. Senate’s national sample give oversight to athletic departments regarding cases of sexual violence involving student-athletes, according to the U.S. Senate report.

Greco said such oversight risks bias and begs the question of what training is available for athletic departments.

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Only 37 percent of schools surveyed by the Senate report provide sexual violence training targeted at student-athletes, and the number was even lower for trainings targeted at students in Greek organizations — 22 percent. Percentages significantly increased for schools in Division I athletics.

Kenan Drum, president of UNC’s Interfraternity Council, said such concerns reveal an opportunity, not an accusation.

“We are uniquely positioned to take the lead in a campus-wide conversation about campus safety and appropriate handling of sexual assault cases,” he said.

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