COLLEGE PARK – To combat sexual violence on Maryland college campuses, the state’s public and private higher educational institutions should change campus culture and encourage reporting of sexual assault cases, state Attorney General Doug Gansler recommended Thursday.
A report Gansler presented at the University of Maryland, College Park contains a half-dozen key recommendations, among them: encouraging bystanders to intervene when possible; addressing the relationship between alcohol and consent; and training campus employees about sexual trauma.
Statistics show that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, according to the report, which comes as a response to the Obama administration’s “It’s On Us” campaign to combat sexual crime on campus.
“It occurred to me that the issue of bystander intervention is probably one of the most effective ways of dealing with this issue,” said Gansler, who advocated training students, at campus orientation and while enrolled, to safely intervene and monitor when their friends appear to be in vulnerable situations.
Alcohol is also often a factor in campus sexual assaults, and students should be aware of each other’s vulnerabilities while under the influence, he said.
The 52-year-old Gansler likened campus culture surrounding sexual assault to the social ignorance around drunken driving about 30 years ago when he was in high school and college, before designated-driver campaigns significantly reduced alcohol-related vehicle deaths among young people.
One of the most important goals is ensuring victims feel comfortable reporting sexual assault cases by educating students about where they can go to report incidents, he said.
Between 2009 and 2013, there were a total of 340 reported forcible sex offenses at more than 90 educational institutions in Maryland, according to the report.
However, nationally, it is estimated that only 13 percent of rape survivors report the assault, according to the report.
Katherine Swanson, director of student groups with the University of Maryland College Park’s Student Government Association, said that the number of reported sexual assault cases at that campus has increased, saying it’s an indicator that the college’s new Title IX office and new policies are doing the job that they’re supposed to do. Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sexual discrimination on campuses, including sexual violence.
“As a student here, as a young woman, as a young person, I feel like this is, like I said, a step in the right direction and I’m really excited to keep moving on this,” Swanson said.
In Maryland, Frostburg State University, Morgan State University and Johns Hopkins University are among 80 institutions nationally under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.