On April 6, 1986, Jeanne Clery, 19, was found murdered in her Lehigh University dorm room. Jeanne had been asleep in her room when her attacker, a 20-year-old fellow Lehigh student, forced his way in and brutally beat, raped, and strangled her.
Jeanne Clery's death spurred the passage of state and federal legislation designed to combat violence on campus by providing transparency in reporting assaults, requiring education, and mandating policies for responding to assaults.
Since Jeanne Clery's death and passage of the Clery Act, universities, law enforcement, and federal agencies have taken positive steps to enhance safety on campuses.
Nearly 20 percent of female college students are victims of sexual assault or attempted assault, according to a Justice Department study. These issues affect both male and female students and occur as frequently within same-sex relationships. More than 80 percent of victims know their attacker, but only 5 percent of incidents are reported to authorities. As many as 350 rapes per year may occur at a college with 10,000 students - nearly one per day.
Earlier this year, President Obama announced the formation of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The president directed the task force to report on concrete steps stakeholders can take to prevent sexual violence on campus. Its report is expected by the end of the month.
With one of the nation's largest populations of college students, the Philadelphia region has a wealth of insight and experience developed through extensive efforts to protect students. Given our belief that the White House Task Force would benefit from this combined body of knowledge, we called together some of the region's top experts on campus-safety issues to launch the Southeastern Pennsylvania Campus Safety Advisory Council.
The advisory council included representatives from higher education, law enforcement, and victims' advocacy groups, who met for extensive discussions and follow-up dialogue. Participants included Maureen Rush, vice president for student life at the University of Pennsylvania; Alison Kiss, the executive director of the Clery Center for Campus Safety; and prosecuting attorneys.
The result is a series of policy recommendations for the White House Task Force to consider. Among the recommendations:
Support partnerships between colleges and law enforcement. Strong partnerships between educational institutions and local law enforcement are key to addressing sexual offenses and helping victims navigate the reporting process. The task force should articulate best practices, including defined parameters for the flow of information between institutions and law enforcement.
Streamline federal law. A patchwork of federal laws, regulations, and reporting requirements can create conflicting obligations and be confusing to navigate. These mandates should be streamlined, and schools should have access to timely guidance from the federal government when conflicts arise.
Improve educational programming. Many colleges take steps to educate students about sexual and gender-based violence, but the panel cited continued confusion about the content and methods of educating students. An evidence-based study should be conducted to determine the most effective ways to educate and communicate with students.
Incorporate a victim-centered approach to responses. The response to sexual violence should take into account the unique effects of trauma experienced by victims. Chronic underreporting prevents victims from receiving the care they need, allows offenders to go undetected, and makes campuses less safe. A victim-centered approach can remove barriers to reporting while ensuring that policies are impartial and tailored to the needs of students.
Ensure access to specialized care. Victims must have access to appropriate confidential resources and medical care, including treatment from a sexual assault nurse examiner. These examiners are specially trained registered nurses who provide forensic medical care to victims of sexual violence with compassion and dignity. They provide proper treatment options and collect and preserve evidence so perpetrators can be brought to justice.
Addressing these challenges will make young people safer on American campuses. It is our hope that the president's task force will consider them in its report to the nation.