Campus Sexual Assault
4:45 pm
Thu March 13, 2014

Sexual Assault at Colleges Gets Local and National Attention

Claire Capozzi, a University of Hartford student, said that Greek groups at her school could do more to prevent sexual assault.
Credit Chion Wolf/WNPR

On Thursday morning, the Board of Regents governing Connecticut state colleges unanimously passed a sexual assault policy which would, among other things, require campuses to give victims detailed descriptions of what they can do. 

The policy is meant to be a template so the various campuses can consistently follow a law passed by the Connecticut General Legislature last summer

"More of the onus was on women to prevent their assaults, and not the men."
Claire Capozzi

Just last week, a student at Wesleyan University filed a federal lawsuit against a fraternity and its Wesleyan chapter, alleging that she had been raped at the fraternity.

A lack of clear policies around sexual assault is still a problem among fraternities and sororities at the University of Hartford, as Claire Capozzi, a student at the school and president of Women For Change, explained on WNPR's Where We Live. She said the information that new members at her school get isn't very helpful.

"I was told anecdotally that the information that they give them about sexual assault is false," Capozzi said. "I mean, it was very victim-blaming: women have to keep hold of their drinks and stuff like that,and the statistics were inaccurate...more of the onus was on women to prevent their assaults, and not the men."

This was a problem in the past, and it still is now, said Caitlin Flanagan, a writer at The Atlantic who spent a year investigating Greek life, and recently published an article detailing what she found. On Where We Live, Flanagan remembered that when she went to college around 30 years ago, she was outraged when her university warned her not to go to a fraternity house alone, and not to go upstairs without sober companions, because she might get raped.

"I remember thinking," Flanagan said, "how in the world can I be paying the same tuition as the males at this campus, and being told explicitly by my own university that these outfits they are in league with are places where rape takes place?"

Flanagan said colleges no longer admit sexual assault outright, because it would be terrible for them.

In a way, Flanagan said, women going to college now have it even worse, because they're no longer warned. She said the colleges no longer admit the sexual assault outright, because it would be terrible for them.

"Women are left with both short ends of the stick," Flanagan said. "On the one hand, [there is] just as much rape as there was a generation ago when I went to college, and colleges [are] not willing to be transparent and admit that fact."

However, Flanagan also pointed out fraternities are like franchise operations with poor quality control.

"You can get a Big Mac in Cleveland that looks just like a Big Mac in San Diego, but you can go to a chapter of Sigma Chi on one campus, and they are very grown-up, and they are running an upstanding program, and there aren't sexual assaults and terrible hazing taking place," Flanagan said. "You can go to Sigma Chi at another campus 15 miles away, and criminal activity, up to and absolutely including violent rape of young, undergraduate females is going on every single weekend, just about."

Flanagan said that means local chapters, not the national fraternities, have to make the change.

"Around the country, campuses don't even have these policies in place, but we do here in Connecticut."
Jilian Gilchrest

The issue of sexual assault has caught the attention of politicians in the state capitol and in Washington. Back in 2012, Connecticut passed a bill requiring schools to tell students what they can do if they become victims.

"Connecticut is actually ahead of the game," said Jilian Gilchrest, Director of Public Policy and Communication at Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, on Where We Live. "Around the country, campuses don't even have these policies in place, but we do here in Connecticut."

Another proposed law before state lawmakers would increase reporting requirements, training, and services to victims.

Last week, the federal Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act went into effect. It holds colleges and universities responsible for preventing sexual violence, not just responding to it after assaults happen. Back in January, the Obama administration set up a task force to stop sexual assault on campuses, and it's expected to come out with a list of best practices next month.