Sexual assault prevention requires change in culture


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

Appalachian State University is in the process of implementing a broad-based safety initiative that includes an emphasis on sexual assault, according to an article in the Aug. 27 edition of The Appalachian.

Sexual assault is particularly difficult to deal with. These are the least reported types of crimes, largely because of the stigma and shame associated with the victims of these crimes.

The nature of these crimes means it is necessary that schools formulate policies that see the needs of victims are met in an atmosphere free of any sort of shame and that the best efforts possible are made to see that justice is done.

Appalachian has faced controversy in its handling of sexual assault. The university saw criticism of its handling of a 2012 case involving four athletes.

That event prompted the university to make changes in policy. Students were removed from the committee that heard sexual misconduct complaints.

Apart from the removal of students, there have been few substantive changes to the university’s policies, according to Associate Director of Student Conduct Jonathan Adams.

Adams said the university clarified language to make it more accessible to students, incorporated the sexual assault policy in the Code of Student Conduct, and changed the policy to conform to federal law.

The problem of addressing sexual assault must be multi-faceted and include sound policy and a commitment to change cultures within institutions.

A July 2014 report of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight reveals a pervasive failure of institutions to adequately address the problem, even though most of the issues the report identified are in some way covered by federal law.

Fortunately, there are some signs that we are beginning to take the issue more seriously. The 2013 UNC system report that prompted our safety initiative hits many of the same points that the Senate report does.

The report recommends the establishment of regular climate surveys to gauge campus atmosphere, creation of oversight committees to see that federal law is followed, and place an emphasis on victim care.

The university has already met 17 of the 23 specifications in the report.

I hope the changes will lead to a stronger response to sexual assault, but it is the job of everyone at the university to hold the administration accountable.

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.