In 2012, the Center for Disease Control reported that around 37 percent of female victims were first raped between the ages of 18-24. In a study of undergraduate women, 19 percent experienced attempted or completed sexual assault after entering college. Recent vocal protests about the silence around sexual assaults and the implementation of Title IX have raised a critical eye towards the processes colleges implement to handle accusations of sexual assault.
Sexual assault remains one of the most underreported crimes in America. Between 2008-2012, it is estimated that 60 percent of alleged sexual assaults are not reported to the proper authorities.
Until recently, there was no research on sexual assaults on HBCU campuses. A Research Triangle Institute (RTI) study released in 2010 found that HBCU students are more likely to report a sexual assault to a friend or family member than a campus or city law enforcement agent. This potentially signals that HBCU students are less likely to be involved in sexual assaults because of lack of in-depth evidence. If this is the case, it is not because sexual assaults do not happen at HBCUs. It could be because students, primarily female students, do not know where or how to report gender-based violence.
This summer, an eight-person, bipartisan committee of the U.S. Senate passed the Campus Safety and Accountability Act (CASA). It established enforceable, stiffer penalties for violating the Jeanne Clery Act that requires colleges to disclose crimes around campus, and for violating Title IX, that protects women and girls from sex-based discrimination.
The bill requires educational institutions to gather information about students’ experiences and victimization via an annual survey, which is then published online, and to provide sexual violence survivors with confidential advisers and trained counselors. No Georgia Senator signed the bill.
The information, which should be publicly accessible under the Clery Act, is not published online for Morehouse College.
According to Farris King in a Cosmopolitan article, HBCUs face a deficit of resources and proper training to address sexual harassment, assaults and rapes on campuses. Morehouse and Spelman are not immune. A recent email from the Spelman Public Safety Office to the Spelman student body infuriated students regarding how the administration handles the crime of rape. Most infuriating was that the unusual placement of quotation marks around the word “rape” delegitimized the student’s accusation.
Even annual events, such as Denim Day at HBCUs, highlight sexual assaults but fail to recognize the particular ways that sexual harassment, assaults and rapes on campuses affect black women.
Researchers noted that a “cultural variable” – that Black women are less likely to report sexual assaults to protect the image of Black males in college – might contribute to the low rates of sexual assault among HBCU students. Currently, women outnumber men on all HBCU campuses.
Emory University School of Nursing Professor Angela Amar commented that, “You don’t want to turn in your brother who’s doing well on campus” because “there are so few of them.”
Is this a reflection of the failure of a national discourse on rape? Or does it signal a failure of HBCUs, administrators and students to take seriously violence against women?
Sexual assaults are not limited to heterosexual relationships. In the same RTI study, among male rape victims, perpetrators were more likely to be an acquaintance (52.4 percent) rather than a stranger (15.1 percent). Thus, administrators must first eliminate the taboo of homosexual relationships and then address the intimate partner violence that occurs within them that is even less recognized.
HBCUs are prime locations to address the violence against women and gender-based violence considering that African-American women are disproportionately affected by this violence. Such critical dialogue could shift the national dialogue on violence against women, a long-needed shift especially on the college campus.
Opinions Staff Writer