White House Issues Guidelines on Fighting Sexual Assault

Noting that 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted in college, the White House is releasing new guidelines to help victims of that violence and improve the way schools handle such cases. Campus sexual assaults are notoriously underreported, and schools' disciplinary processes vary widely.

The suggestions in a new report released today by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault provide colleges with basic guidelines for dealing with sexual assault cases; it also sets up a national reporting system that asks schools to survey their students about their experiences.

The report is titled "Not Alone," which is also the name of a new website the administration created as a resource for schools and the victims of sexual assault. Its work reflects contributions from several federal agencies, including the Departments of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services.

Here are some highlights from the report:

  • Sexual assault victims should be able to speak in confidentiality to a trained advocate who would not be required "to report all the details of an incident to school officials," as some colleges have mandated in recent years.
  • "Questions about the survivor's sexual history with anyone other than the alleged perpetrator should not be permitted." An accuser and the accused "should not be allowed to personally cross-examine each other."
  • Calling the intervention of bystanders one of the "most promising prevention strategies," the report calls for encouraging men and women to act in such cases.
  • The new website also includes a national "school-by-school enforcement map" that marks resolved cases that involved the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice.

The recommendations stem from three months' work by the task force that was formed earlier this year, in response to widespread dissatisfaction with the way college campuses handle cases of sexual assault. A unique February conference on the issue hosted by the University of Virginia was filled to capacity by college presidents and others.