As reports of colleges' failure to deal with sexual assault have drawn attention to campuses from Swarthmore to Berkeley and Penn State to Florida State, it's become clear that the problem afflicts higher education at large. The White House and others are beginning to respond accordingly.
The first report of a White House task force on the issue this week noted the astonishing finding that, according to a 2007 report for the National Institute of Justice, nearly one in five female students suffers an attempted or actual sexual assault during college. Only about 13 percent report the crime, and, worse, those who do often confront callous and complacent campus officials. A 2010 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found most student sexual assault reports had little or no repercussions for the perpetrators.
Women at Swarthmore College are among a growing group that has sought federal action under the Title IX gender-equity law. More than 30 such complaints have been filed this fiscal year, about double the previous year's pace. Dozens of campuses are under federal review nationwide.
Courageous students have forced officials to consider campus sexual assault as a national policy problem, and more courageous students could be part of the solution. The White House has unveiled a campaign to encourage more bystanders, particularly men, to speak up and intervene rather than let these crimes unfold. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that consistent, comprehensive education programs can help prevent sexual assaults among students.
College officials clearly have to take sexual assault more seriously, too, and the administration is providing more guidance on that score. If the federal government also strengthens enforcement and transparency as the task force recommended, colleges will start to respond as they should to what amounts to a campus crime wave.