As a national effort to reduce sexual assaults on college campuses spreads beyond a core group of activists, some universities are measuring the prevalence of attacks for the first time.
At UNC-Chapel Hill on Thursday, the councils of fraternities, sororities and historically black Greek organizations will join for a march against sexual assault. This month, fraternities at N.C. State and Duke universities are hosting events as part of a group known as Fraternities 4 Family, which raises awareness about domestic and sexual violence.
And earlier in the week, UNC system students distributed T-shirts that said “It’s on Us,” a reference to the national campaign promoted by the White House and featured in public service announcements during the NCAA basketball tournament.
“It’s something that everybody is taking more seriously, especially male individuals,” said Houston Summers, student body president at UNC. Summers, a track team member, appeared in an “It’s on Us” video produced by UNC. The campaign aims to use athletes’ star power to get students’ attention.
Summers, who reserved space for 600 at Thursday’s event, said he hopes it will be “a legitimate turning point” in students’ involvement in rape-prevention efforts.
Meanwhile, some campuses are trying to zero in on the frequency of sexual assault, a vastly under-reported crime, according to experts. Last week, UNC emailed students asking them to take part in a national campus climate survey sponsored by the Association of American Universities, a coalition of 60 research universities. Twenty-eight universities will use the survey this year, which may shed light on the prevalence of sexual harassment, assault and dating violence.
The flurry of events comes at the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, including a round of local screenings of “The Hunting Ground,” a film that exposes what it describes as an epidemic of sexual assault on American college campuses. The film, to be shown April 16 at UNC and April 22 at NCSU, prominently features two former UNC students, Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, who have helped spark a national conversation about campus sexual assault.
They were among five women who filed federal complaints against the university in 2013 for its handling of sexual assault cases and its reporting of crime statistics. Those investigations are still underway, but in the meantime, Clark and Pino co-founded an organization called End Rape on Campus, which has helped students across the United States file similar complaints under the federal Title IX gender anti-discrimination law.
“The Hunting Ground” follows Clark and Pino as they become go-to advocates for students who suffered assaults. They also became political activists, pushing new legislation in Congress.
In the film, both said they were raped while they were UNC students; Clark, before classes had even started; and Pino, who described being slammed into the bathroom floor by someone she danced with at a party. They described a devastating aftermath.
“I learned later on that I wasn’t the only one who was raped that weekend,” Pino said in the film. “But at the time, we didn’t talk about it because it was something that nobody talked about.”
Last week, the film played to a sold-out audience in Chapel Hill, where Clark and Pino received a standing ovation during a question-and-answer session.
“We very much love our university, and because we love it, we wanted to hold it accountable,” Clark told the crowd. “So it’s not to vilify, it’s to use as an example of what needs to change in our society.”
Students who have been assaulted can report it to the police and/or universities, which are required to investigate and provide an adjudication process. But Clark and Pino said neither system is working.
The lack of action is exacerbated, they said, by the constant churn of students every four years. Most investigations never go anywhere, they said, or accused students are found not responsible during hearings. Activists graduate.
“The truth is, we came here to be students,” Pino said. “We didn’t come here to be activists, and fake lawyers and God knows what else you end up becoming.”
The documentary paints a picture of universities, including Harvard, University of California-Berkeley, Notre Dame and Florida State, that failed to seek justice for victims because they were more concerned about protecting their reputations, avoiding lawsuits or shielding high-profile athletes.
In the film, former UNC student affairs administrator Melinda Manning estimated that more than 100 students had come to her to say they had been sexually assaulted. But she recalled no expulsions of alleged perpetrators, and said she “was certainly aware of some individuals who had committed it repeatedly.”
The documentary said 136 sexual assaults occurred at UNC between 2001 and 2013, with zero expulsions as a result. A university spokesman confirmed that there were 136 forcible sex offenses reported on campus during that time, but said not all necessarily went through campus or law enforcement processes. Officials said a public records search would be required to determine what, if any, sanctions resulted in those cases.
Universities have revised their policies to conform with new federal guidelines. UNC’s new policy, adopted last August, establishes that students must have affirmative consent before and during sexual activity. The university also has mandated an online training session for all faculty, staff and students; as of March 19, 34,000 had taken part.
In an email to students last week, two administrators urged that students take the new survey so officials can have an accurate picture of what’s happening on campus. The results may help in designing new prevention programs. A campus sexual assault prevention task force launched its work Wednesday.
The AAU survey has been criticized because the organization has said it will only release results in the aggregate, not by campus. UNC said it would release its findings this summer. Duke University is not participating. Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said a committee is looking at various survey instruments to see which is best for Duke.
In an email to students on March 19, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and Vice Chancellor Felicia Washington, wrote that they were proud of UNC’s progress on the issue, but there is more work to do.
“Your safety is our highest priority, and everything we’re working on – from prevention and training to counseling and support – is done with you in mind,” the email said.