Sexual Assault and Bullying
November 25, 2015
Will new policies create safer campuses?

Charges of rape and sexual assault on college and university campuses — and criticisms of how school officials investigate and adjudicate them — are receiving unprecedented attention. Young women who say their schools mishandled their assault cases have formed advocacy groups, and they and others have filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education, which is investigating allegations at 86 colleges and universities. Student activists are pressing schools to increase their anti-sexual-assault efforts, inspiring new state legislation, safety tools and intervention training programs. But as momentum builds to hold schools more accountable, civil libertarians say the pressure is causing some schools to violate the rights of accused students, who are pushing back in the courts. Meanwhile, college and high school students increasingly are suffering harassment and cyberbullying, especially via new anonymous apps.

Dana Bolger, co-founder of Know Your IX, testifies on combating campus sexual assault during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on July 29, 2015. The panel was examining whether the Higher Education Act’s Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination at universities, properly addresses students’ rights in campus assault cases. (Getty Images/Astrid Riecken)   Dana Bolger, co-founder of Know Your IX, testifies on combating campus sexual assault during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on July 29, 2015. The panel was examining whether the Higher Education Act’s Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination at universities, properly addresses students’ rights in campus assault cases. (Getty Images/Astrid Riecken)

In September 2014, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz became the face of the campus anti-rape movement with her senior thesis project, “Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight).” Protesting the university’s handling of her sexual-assault case, Sulkowicz began carrying the 50-pound mattress from class to class, saying she would continue until graduation or until the student she accused of assaulting her was expelled.

Since then, students at more than 130 colleges have organized similar demonstrations, supporting Sulkowicz and demanding procedural reform. 1 Activists have challenged institutional responses to sexual-assault reports, as well as schools’ standards of evidence, and they are calling for prevention training and more-thorough investigations.

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