The shadow of sexual violence

A recent tragic assault looms over Campus Safety Awareness Week.

Sexual assault is a grave and ubiquitous reality on this and other college campuses across the country, and attention must be paid. As Campus Safety Awareness Week gets underway, the tragic abduction and sexual assault of a University student near campus Thursday lends heavy weight to reminders that campus safety is everyoneâÄôs business. National Public Radio and the Center for Public Integrity recently collaborated on a series of extensive reports investigating the high incidence of sexual assault on college campuses and the difficulties women and universities have in navigating the aftermath. Some of the numbers are horrifying, if not new: One in every five college-age women will be assaulted, most likely by an acquaintance and with alcohol as a major factor. The CPI uncovered a troubling and consistent contrast, though: While victims must live with the consequences of assault for the rest of their lives, perpetrators âÄúoften face little or no punishmentâÄù from universities. Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart said that although the University takes these matters very seriously and judges them independently of criminal rulings, officials feel bound to keep their dealings with perpetrators âÄúin an educational context.âÄù He adds, âÄúWe know that sexual assault is underreported on our campus and across the country âĦ thatâÄôs a major problem.âÄù Of a meager seven campus police reports for sexual assault in 2009, four were dropped by the victims and none were prosecuted. A big part of the challenge, Rinehart says, is establishing a campus culture in which itâÄôs all right for students of both genders to talk openly about sexual violence and to intervene in situations where it might occur.