Editorial: Create accountability in college sex-abuse claims
A federal review of 55 colleges and universities for possibly mishandling sex abuse investigations should be a major wake-up call to all higher-education institutions.
Seattle Times Editorial
ONE in five college students is sexually assaulted, according to a White House report, but few report the attacks because of campus environments that discourage reporting or that are not supportive enough of victims.
College and university leaders can’t just state they have “zero-tolerance” for sexual assault. They must authentically foster atmospheres in which students feel safe enough to report abuse and seek justice.
Otherwise, too many assailants will continue to get away with rape and harassment because their victims are too afraid to come forward.
Take for instance this recent example: University of Oregon officials knew about sex-abuse allegations against three basketball players, but still allowed them to play during the NCAA tournament, according to news reports.
Victims often suffer public shame and blame when they go to authorities, especially when the accused are high-profile students. The emotional toll ranges from depression and quitting college to suicide.
The problem is so serious the U.S. Department of Education revealed this month it is investigating 55 universities for possibly mishandling sexual violence claims. Washington State University is on that list, but sex abuse is pervasive on campuses throughout the United States.
The hope is that all universities will re-evaluate their policies. Schools must do more to protect students.
The University of Washington recently announced a major shift in how it deals with dating violence. The campus has come a long way from the days when administrators withheld information and defended former UW football star Jerramy Stevens after evidence showed he might have sexually assaulted a fellow student.
The victim was so scarred by the ordeal she withdrew from school for a period of time. Stevens played with the Huskies through their 2001 Rose Bowl win. He settled a lawsuit filed by the victim in 2004.
Such conduct should never be tolerated again.
Every school ought to tailor its prevention and response programs in ways that effectively engage students. Bystanders need to report suspicious behavior. Everyone on campus must understand the meaning of sexual consent, especially when drugs and alcohol are involved.
Better definitions of “zero-tolerance” could cause a spike in sex-abuse claims. Officials should not fear this. With federal funding and student safety at stake, their job is to respond to each case carefully, listen to victims and hold offenders accountable.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).