Dear Kid,

As you may have heard, the US Education Department has announced that it is investigating 55 colleges and universities for their mishandling of sexual abuse complaints.

It’s not news that people are talking about sexual assaults and the culture of rape on campuses. And it’s not news that the EoD is investigating. What is news is that they’ve released the names of the institutions.

Interestingly, they are investigating under Title IX which is best known for mandating that women have equal rights in school athletics. But Title IX is broader than that, prohibiting gender discrimination at all schools that receive federal funds (pretty much every school you can think of). So (theoretically at least) the Department of Education could prohibit an uncooperative school from getting federal aid (including grants and subsidized loans for students). Since this would make colleges VERY unhappy, none of the colleges are fussing about the investigations.

Well, not exactly. It would be political suicide [Like the Massachusetts government website that tweeted: “Sexual assault is always avoidable.” Big time #Fail.] to fuss. However, many of them are scrambling to cover their proverbial hindquarters. One school leader (I heard this on NPR, but since I tuned in part way through the program I missed which school it was) pointed out that it’s not that the number of assaults on their campus is going up so much that now that more attention is being paid more assaults are being reported which is causing their numbers to go up.

And your point exactly?

To be clear:

Sexual assault, sexual discrimination, sexual bullying, sexual intimidation—none of it can be allowed to continue. We must not allow anyone on our college campuses to be victims (yes, men can be victims too although it is much less common).

Colleges and universities must investigate allegations with focus and determination—not to blindly follow accusations, but to make campuses safe. Students must be able to intervene rather than turn a blind eye. Victims must be treated with respect and dignity rather than as the cause of the assault.

It is unconscionable that sexual assault is so common on our campuses. If you know anyone who has been (or who you think might have been) a victim of sexual misconduct, talk to them. Encourage them to step forward. Take them to a clinic if necessary. Go with them to the authorities. If you find yourself in a situation you think might be conducive to sexual misconduct, leave and take your friends with you. Report the situation immediately so that no one else is hurt.

If everyone does the right thing, it will go a long way toward curbing this epidemic.

Love, Mom