This guest post was written by Sarah Martino from Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER).
Making waves can seem intimidating. Although a lot of students recognize the need for change in regards to sexual assault on the campuses, many don’t know where to start, how to make the biggest difference, or don’t consider themselves to be activists and shy away from getting involved. For the past ten years, Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER) has been making the case for campus sexual assault policy reform as an important and accessible way for students to change how their schools prevent and respond to sexual violence. We work with students to organize policy reform campaigns on their campus, offering them guidance as they attack the issue at the institutional level and make sustainable change that will help future classes of students.
But let’s back up and talk policies—what’s in them, and why do they need to be changed in the first place? All colleges and universities (who receive federal funding) are required by the Clery Act to have a written policy on sexual misconduct that is available to all students. At SAFER we believe that sexual assault policies should be thorough enough that any student could pick one up and know exactly how a school defines consent and sexual assault; what their options would if they wanted to report an incident of sexual assault; what services would be offered to them and how to access them; and how a disciplinary procedure would work if they chose to pursue one/were accused of sexual misconduct.
Not many schools have policies that live up to our list of what makes a better sexual assault policy, however. Consequently, students don’t receive comprehensive sexual assault prevention education; victims of rape and sexual assault are not given the support they need; and disciplinary procedures are handled poorly by untrained staff, lack due process, and students found responsible for rape aren’t appropriately sanctioned. The Center for Public Integrity’s recent report on campus sexual assault highlighted a lot of these issues, with distressing findings.
I’d like to encourage students, at the very least, to find their school’s sexual assault policy—which should be on the school’s website and/or in the student handbook—and see what’s in it. And then I ask that you take the extra step of becoming part of SAFER and V-Day’s Campus Accountability Project (CAP). The CAP asks students to review their school’s policy using our student review form that asks a series of yes/no/and fill-in questions meant to assess the policy’s strengths and weaknesses. Once submitted, your policy analysis will be reviewed by SAFER staff and included in our Campus Sexual Assault Policies Database, a collection of policies from across the country meant to be a resource for student activists and an important tool for holding school’s accountable for supporting their students and keeping them safe. If you are unhappy with your school’s policy, you can check out our Activist Resource Center for more ideas on how to make change or bring a SAFER training to your campus. (Note: to access the database and resource center, you’ll need to register for our website. But it’s free!)
Your school’s sexual assault policy not only governs how sexual assault is dealt with on campus, it is also the only constant guidance on the issue—students graduate, and even though one year there may be a lot of sexual assault related activism, it might not last, and with each new class comes the need for education and discussion. This is why we place so much value on student activism around policy. You have the opportunity to ensure that future classes of students will enter more supportive and responsive environment. Go for it, and let us know if you need help.