Challenging Campus Assaults that Target LGBT Students
The White House this week released its first report to prevent sexual assault on college campuses.
The Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault announced a series of actions to: identify the scope of the problem on college campuses, help prevent campus sexual assault, help schools respond effectively when a student is assaulted and make the federal government’s enforcement efforts more transparent.
The goal is that colleges nationwide must take steps to combat violence that has long afflicted women at schools. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while in college. Most often, it happens in her freshman or sophomore year.
However for the LGBT community, the issue spans beyond the sexual assault itself. According to a report by the American Association of University Women more than 70 percent of gay and lesbian college students nationwide experience sexual harassment from their peers, faculty and staff.
At Nazareth College, Rowan Collins is the head of the LGBT student organization. He says social dynamics within the gay and lesbian community can be a barrier to speaking out about the offense.
"Surviving a sexual assault is already traumatic enough..."
“Surviving a sexual assault is already traumatic enough and a lot of times if the person who assaulted them was another member of the LGBT community, people sit with this fear of betrayal.”
Collins says there is fear that the sexual offender could “out” them. He also adds that the reporting process can be unwelcoming to LGBT survivors of sexual assault. For instance, the current standard is to ask a woman when was the last time she had sex with a man. Collins suggests changing that language.
She says that health services or counseling staffers should ask ‘when was the last time you engaged in any consensual sexual activity,’ rather than make the assumption that someone is heterosexual.
Barbara LeSavoy directs and teaches Women and Gender Studies at Brockport College. LeSavoy says gay and lesbian students face unique challenges since they seem to be sidelined by society.
"The more that we marginalize populations the more that we increase their vulnerability."
"The more that we marginalize populations the more that we increase their vulnerability, and the more that … reinforces the system that oppresses them.”
At Brockport College, actions are being taken to educate students, faculty and staff on gender-based violence. LeSavoy says they are working on their own set of recommendations and policies surrounding sexual assault for the LGBT community.
“I think education is power. The more we can leverage that the better informed our students at the campus are, the better informed citizens are, the more that, you know, we can kind of take a stand and kind of protect others.”
The Director of the Genesee Valley chapter of the NYCLU, KaeLyn Rich says that familiarizing students on sexual orientation and gender identity diversity is necessary to enhance students' well-being. That’s particularly important for students who do not identify as heterosexual or ‘cisgender’, meaning someone whose gender identity matches their birth assigned sex.
"84 percent of students still don't get any education about LGBTQ people in high school at all."
"84 percent of students still don't get any education about LGBTQ people in high school at all. So, by the time kids come to college they really have none of that foundation and it’s also creating a culture where we're not creating allies out of people who don't identify as LGBTQ, and we're not creating environments that feel safe for people."
Rich says there are various state legislative policies in place to protect students from harassment and discrimination. For example, The Dignity for All Students Act that took effect in 2012. It provides elementary and secondary school students with safe, supportive environments. Almost ten years prior, the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, was implemented. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, whether actual or perceived, for housing, employment, education, credit, and for all other civil rights concerns. Rich says there is still more work to be done.
“Right now in New York there are no other legal protections for transgender and gender non-conforming people. Actually we're working on another bill - GENDA - the gender expression non-discrimination act that would add gender identity and expression to our state's non-discrimination laws.”
Others are also stepping up to make wide-reaching changes. In response to the number of sexual assaults on college and university campuses, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has recently announced her push for federal funding to help fight against such attacks.