Prior to my experience in the US I had a very stereotypical understanding of Sexual Assault in US colleges. I had seen all of the videos about it, most notably the it’s on us campaign (http://itsonus.org/), as well as the documentary ‘the hunting ground’ (which can be found on netflix and I highly suggest that you have a watch). These are both examples of the awareness that is currently being raised about sexual assault on campus. However it’s not just the awareness that is causing this understanding of sexual assault, but also just the culture of college campuses in general. Everyone knows about greek life (sororities and fraternities), and how dangerous it can be, with men in fraternities being 3 times more likely to commit sexual assault, and with the national institute of justice stating that being a member of a sorority increases one’s risk factor of sexual assault (http://endrapeoncampus.org/greek-life/). These statistics, along with how greek life is portrayed in films and tv shows, with very openly misogynistic attitudes and hazing paints a very poor picture of not only greek life, but the attitude towards sexual assault on campus.
However, that’s not to say that it’s better anywhere else in the world. Due to my social circles and activism within australia, I was also aware of Sexual Assault on University Campuses in Australia. I participated in the “ending Sexual Assault on Campus” campaign, and am friends with Heidi La Paglia, the womens officer for the National Union of Students in 2016 and the person who ran said campaign, and have worked with Jo Halen, the MP who is currently a part of leading the It’s time for action Campaign to end sexual assault on campus in Australia (here). And primarily it is a lot more hidden in Australia. It’s something that is rampant, but you only know that if you’re in an environment that allows education about it, but when i thought about it, it still seemed like less of an issue than it is in the US.
However when I got here, I realised that the response to this stereotype is actually quite impressive. The first time I was on campus it was for an introduction seminar, where we had an hour long compulsory consent training, which was my first exposure to anything of the like. I had never seen anything like it in australia, which is why it’s so important, because I’m sure that there were many people there that didn’t fully know about consent (i.e. consent when under a substance isn’t consent.). Not only that but they gave us some great resources about what to do if we are sexual assulted (and used gender neutral language throughout, because people of any gender can be sexually assaulted). This video attached below is just one of the few that were shown to us, and is a great primer for any discussions to be had ‘It’s On Us’ Video (opens a new page)
Further into my semester I started investigating joining a sorority, because really what’s more american than that? Obviously I didn’t go through with it, but in order to even start looking at different groups everyone had to do a test in regards to drink culture, hazing and sexual assault. Not only did people have to read through all of the information as well as choose the correct answers in order to pass and be able to haze, but there was also information about where to get help if necessary through the quiz as well as on any related greek life websites.
About 3 weeks ago I found out that this was all due to Title XI, the amendment to the constitution that states that no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. This relates to sexual assault, as in 2011 a letter from the Department of Education stated that “The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.” So, as part of Title XI, there is now compulsory sexual assault training, a full time staff member that is available to all students on campus to make any complaints or seek any help, They allow for students to changes classes, dorms, or whatever is necessary, help with the legal aspects of sexual assault as well as the emotional ones (which counselors on campus that have training especially in regards to sexual assault.)
So, while sexual assault on college campuses is still a major issue within the United States, there are many things that are being done to change the attitude and procedures about it, and it’s something that i’m very excited to be able to bring back to my university back home. There are many great things that have been implemented because of title XI, and hopefully this will also happen within Australia sometime soon.