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With sexual assaults reported on campus nationwide, the American Association of University Professors today released its first report on the topic. It calls for clearer policies about what constitutes assault; coherent reporting procedures drafted in tandem with local law enforcement; more effective prevention campaigns targeted at both male and female students; and greater faculty awareness that they may find themselves on the “front lines” of the problem.

“ ‘Gray area’ may be a charitable way of putting it,” said Anita Levy, AAUP’s associate secretary of academic freedom, tenure and governance, of the confusing mix of sexual assault-related standards across higher education. Still, due to the nature of the crime, the AAUP’s recommendations are designed to be instituted at the campus level.

“Unlike sexual harassment, which may not cross over into the realm of law enforcement, sexual assault straddles the boundary between university and local police, making it much more complicated and not as easy to provide recommendations the way that we do for other procedures on campus,” said Levy.

To maximize awareness, the AAUP recommends that everyone on campus – faculty, administrators, staff and students – be represented in developing rules, definitions, laws, reporting requirements and penalties pertaining to sexual assault. They should also consult and network with key off-campus community members, such as police and health care providers.

The AAUP report says that faculty members are not mandated reporters of sexual assault, partly due to the chilling effect that status could have on communication with students. (As the AAUP is not a legal authority, it expects colleges to make exceptions to this recommendation, particularly in light of 1990's Clery Act to address sexual violence on campus. According to that law,  campus crime statistics must be gathered from all school officials who have a "significant responsibility for student and campus activities," which faculty serving as chaperones for off-campus trips arguably could have, for example.) But all faculty are encouraged to steer students who confide in them to seek help and to pay attention to signs that a student may be struggling in the aftermath of rape.

“Victims of sexual assault sometimes choose to disclose incidents of sexual assault to faculty, particularly female faculty,” said Ann Green, professor of English at St. Joseph’s University and report subcommittee chair. “Since faculty are mostly not prepared to deal with this kind of disclosure, a good policy can help a faculty member guide a student to the proper resources.”

Green said the document’s focus on faculty also addressed directives from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in its 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter urging universities to become better at preventing and reporting sexual violence as federally funded institutions held to Title IX standards.

But ending sexual violence is the ultimate goal.

“It surprises me that the focus on most college campuses is about preventing sexual assault by focusing on women as victims,” Green said, adding that more than two decades after the passage of the Clery Act, rape is still vastly underreported. “I’d like to see campuses actively engage all students in talking about who commits sexual assaults and in educating young men about the issues of sexual violence. Reporting sexual assaults should be a first step.”

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