Monday, February 24, 2014

Maryland Works to Combat Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Nearly one in five college women have experienced rape or attempted rape, but only 12 percent of these victims actually report the incident. 

Delegate Jon D. Cardin (D-Baltimore County) says that sexual assault on college campuses is an “epidemic.” That is why he has proposed a bill in the state of Maryland that is hoped to change this. 

The new bill aims to help universities get a better picture of just how many sexual assault crimes are occurring on Maryland campuses.

The bill would require all schools in the University of Maryland system to create a mandatory online survey on sexual assault, mandatory for students to take every three years.

The survey's intention is to get a more accurate number of the amount of incidents occurring amongst students on and off campus.

Stephanie Rivero, assistant coordinator of the CARE to Stop Violence office at the University of Maryland, thinks that the bill would be helpful to combating sexual assault issues.

Despite negative statistics, colleges do have programs set up to minimize the sexual assault issue.

The University of Maryland’s Campus Advocates Respond and Educated (CARE) to Stop Violence program has been working to respond to incidents of sexual assault and to educate the community of its dangers.

Rivero said the office is a place students can come to and feel comfortable knowing whatever they reveal is kept private.

In addition to the CARE program, the Sexual Assault Prevention Office and the Office of the Victim Advocate set up the Clothesline Project every year. 

The project allows sexual assault victims to express whatever they want to their attacker on a t-shirt to be hung in Hornbake Plaza and other places around the UMD community.

“The project really puts a face on just how big of an issue rape and sexual assault truly are here,” said Christina Coplon, a senior Journalism major at Maryland.

T-shirts hanging at Prince George's hospital as part of UMD's
 sexual assault  awareness program
 the Clothes Line Project. Source:The Diamondback
UMD also has the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Program Advocates (SARRP) Office that provides a 24-hour crisis response - something many students are unaware of.

For privacy, one can even block their phone number before calling and the office also accepts text messages.

Despite campus programs that have been implemented, reporting of sexual assault remains uncommon.

The issue lies in the lack of reporting. 

The University of Maryland is required under federal law to draft the Clery Report, a report intended to show college campuses the rates of campus crimes that occurred that year.

Although the Clery Report includes a great amount of data, it fails to include the crimes of those victims who never report their incident to the CARE office or the university police.

According to the 2013 Clery Report, only 24 sexual offenses over the past three years were reported. The data represented crimes on and off-campus.

UM University College's 2013 Annual Safety and Security Clery Report. Source: UMUC

The new bill would allow universities to really focus on sexual assault separately, instead of throwing it in as another category amongst all the other crimes.

Opponents of the bill claim believe the bill wouldn’t be enough to enable universities to get to the root of the problem. Rivero, too, is hesitant of just how helpful the survey will be in this battle against sexual assault.

While no one can know the true effects the bill will have if put into law, it is apparent that although it may not completely solve the sexual assault problem on college campuses, it will certainly point schools in the right direction.

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