New sexual assault policy for American universities

Matthew Mitterhoff

Lafayette is preparing to implement changes in their sexual assault policy, under requirement of the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act.

Under the new act, which was signed in March by President Obama, schools must offer programs for sexual-violence prevention, along with providing support and counseling for victims of sexual assault, minimum disciplinary standards for offenders, and the disclosing all occurrences of sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking to the campus community.

A lot of the sexual assault cases involve alcohol. A study conducted by the education-consulting company EverFi shows that there is a correlation between heavy alcohol use and the risk of being sexually assaulted. Some researchers are saying that it is not a direct relationship, though, based on the fact that that connection can lead to a blaming of the victim involved.

“Alcohol simply serves as a facilitator,” EverFi Director of Research Dan Zapp said.

Lafayette is doing anything and everything it can to comply with these new regulations.

“We are absolutely committed to staying on top of what is required of us by law,” Dean of Intercultural Development John McKnight wrote in an email.

According to McKnight, a lot of the new programs that must be implemented under the law have already existed on Lafayette’s campus.

“My sense is that we won’t necessarily add a lot of new programs. There will likely be a few policy changes,” McKnight wrote. “The biggest implication of VAWA is that we are expanding the definition of sexual misconduct to include dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. These are behaviors that have always been of concern to College officials, but the law now requires us to enact the same processes we would for any other incidence of sexual misconduct.”

“We will slowly begin adding in additional programs specifically focused on issues that… we have already been concerned about,” Gene Kelly, the Associate Dean of Intercultural Development and Director of Gender and Sexuality Programs, wrote in an email. “During RAVE Week, we included a session related to domestic violence in college environments. The beginning of the year saw a larger output in regard to prevention based programming in general, including new passive education elements (posters, et cetera).”

Both McKnight and Kelly are optimistic for Lafayette’s future in complying with the law, and how that will affect sexual assault prevention programs on campus.

“There are a number of staff on campus who are expected to remain attentive to changes in the law and to make certain Lafayette is always following best practices in sexual misconduct programming, education and response,” McKnight wrote.