White House releases plan to curb sexual assault on college campuses

Natalie Sullivan

A new government plan aiming at reducing sexual assault on college campuses will raise awareness and promote a more coordinated approach against violence and sexual assault at UT, according to a University health official.

A White House task force committee formed the plan after surveying college administrators, assault survivors and other interested groups. The plan includes voluntary steps colleges can take to prevent sexual assault, assist survivors and increase transparency by making information about sexual assault more widely available.

Erin Burrows, prevention and outreach specialist at Voices Against Violence, said the new plan will increase attention toward the problem of sexual violence.

“Most people don’t want to talk about violence and harm, so this is a step in the right direction,” Burrows said.

The plan includes such steps as conducting campus climate surveys, increasing bystander and intervention programs, and providing resources for victims of sexual assault to get help. Although campus climate surveys are voluntary this year, there are goals to make them mandatory by 2016. As part of its recommendations, the White House also launched a new website, NotAlone.gov, that allows students to look up sexual assault data on specific campuses and file Title IX complaints.

According to the task force, one in five female college students has been sexually assaulted, but only 12 percent of them report the attack.

Jane Bost, associate director at UT Counseling and Mental Health Services, said a campus climate survey would be helpful to collect more data on sexual violence incidents on campus, even though the University has already implemented many of the committee’s recommendations.

“One of the things we don’t have that the plan recommended is a campus climate survey looking at just those issues, so that would help a lot with learning more about general student attitudes and how we can improve our programs,” Bost said.

The task force committee found bystander intervention programs, in which students who witness violence or harmful relationships on campus can take action, were one of the most beneficial ways to prevent sexual assault. Bost said the University launched a new program in April, called BeVocal, to address this issue.

“One of our goals is to improve the way we mobilize men and bystanders to be aware of and prevent sexual assault,” Bost said. “I think it’s an area we can be more aware of and address it in a more focused way.”

Marilyn Russell, deputy advisor to the Dean of Students, works with the BeVocal program and said the plan was part of a coordinated effort to streamline access to resources for students. 

“It’s about all of the different issue areas working together to reduce harm here at UT,” Russell said.  

Bost said the University will continue its efforts to improve access to resources for assault survivors. 

“It’s always an ongoing effort,” Bost said. “We can always improve.”