How To Deal With The Campus Sexual Assault Crisis

Times Editorial Board | Los Angeles Times | May 12, 2014

Not too long ago, a woman who was sexually assaulted on campus might understandably have felt that her experience was, if not unique, at least uncommon. Colleges, worried about their reputations, often downplayed such incidents, sweeping rape accusations under the rug, underreporting assault allegations or failing to take meaningful action against perpetrators.

Today, however, it would be difficult for a student anywhere to be unaware of the issue. There are few schools in the country — big or small, public or private — that are not agonizing over how best to address what is increasingly seen as an epidemic of sexual assault. Even President Obama has taken on the subject, asserting at a news conference in January that an estimated 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted in college. Usually the crime is committed by someone she knows, often by someone who has done it before.

This month, the U.S. Department of Education said it was investigating no fewer than 55 institutions of higher learning for possible mishandling of sexual assault complaints; that includes two schools in Los Angeles — Occidental College and USC — as well as UC Berkeley. The same week, a White House task force released its first report, a general overview that emphasizes measures to prevent assault, flags some of the confusing reporting protocol and offers a checklist for drafting a comprehensive policy to prevent sexual misconduct. Misconduct includes not just sexual assault — which is non-consensual sexual contact or intercourse or an attempt at it — but also sexual harassment, dating violence, stalking and intimidation...