Here are some suggested “best practices” that academic institutions can implement. These recommendations are not comprehensive. They are not a complete and exhaustive list, but rather a basis for further action. For the purpose of this list, sexual violence includes but is not limited to: stalking, intimidation, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape, and hate crimes.
Cooperation is key when it comes to creating sound policies. Faculty are in a position to engage informally with students and listen to their concerns. Students are in a position to experience what policies need changing and why. Administrators are in a position to engage directly with faculty and see changes made. This is why cooperation and collaboration between all three groups is key. An example of how this cooperation could be fostered is through the establishment of a Sexual Assault Advisory Committee (2 faculty, 2 administrators, 2 students) which would conduct an annual review of policies and practices using recorded data and statistics, and would make recommendations for changes to the board by the end of the school year.
Providing access to therapeutic services is crucial on campus and offering a venue for mental health needs to be addressed just as seriously as physical health issues. If the institution does not already provide therapeutic services available on campus, establish services. All students, whether or not they are victims of sexual violence, should have access to mental health counseling. This can also be a preventative measure to avoid a crisis where a student becomes a danger to themselves or to the student body. When establishing services either with a direct employee of the college on campus or partnering with a local clinic, make sure that students have adequate transportation to services (car, school van, bus, Uber/Lyft, subway) and knowledge of their available options.
Include clear and thorough definitions of consent, sexual assault and sexual harassment in the student handbook and in consent educational materials.
Publish a list of resources should a student find themselves a victim of sexual violence, such as information about local hospitals, urgent care centers, national and local hotlines, as well as staff that a student can report to if they wish (RAs, deans, etc). This information should be readily available in any dorm, dorm room, or common area, via stickers or posters.
Ensure that policies regarding sexual violence are easily found on the institution website. Demonstrate that student safety is a priority and that sexual violence is seriously acknowledged. Include access and information regarding the Sexual Assault Victims’ & the Survivors Bill of Rights.
AMNESTY/GOOD SAMARITAN POLICIES
Re-evaluate zero-tolerance policies (ex. the consumption of alcohol while underage or on campus, drug use, previous sexual activity, or sexual orientation). Victims may fear coming forward if the crime took place while they were under the influence and “Good Samaritans” may fear getting help for a victim or testifying on their behalf if they fear punishment for their own violation of the rules. An amnesty policy would be beneficial in this case where a student can request amnesty if emergency services are necessary or any official criminal report is made. Rule breaking should not be a factor in the process of getting help for yourself or for another student.
REDUCE BIASED INFLUENCES
The adjudication process for sexual violence cases should be fully independent of school administration in order to prevent bias leaning towards the protection of a school reputation over student safety.
Be transparent about campus crime regarding sexual violence. This is not meant to be a deterrent to potential students, but another sign of transparency and commitment to student safety. Statistics should be readily available to the public in a security report that is accessible from the website.
Consent education should be offered annually and be made mandatory for all students, not only for incoming freshmen and transfers. This should also include information on state and federal laws regarding consent and assault. Affirmative consent education can have a positive effect in lowering sexual violence on campus and institutional betrayal. Students should be able to speak openly and clearly about consent and sexuality and academic institutions should have these educational programs available. Consent education is an empowering tool for students in providing them with clear knowledge of what constitutes sexual violence, not an encouragement for pre-marital sex. Education programs should not be limited to students, but also include faculty and staff so they remain up-to-date and informed to best help the student body.
Peace Over Violence is a secular but excellent source of training and education regarding sexual and domestic violence.