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Victim Advocate Group Encourages Penn State to Closely Review White House Report on Student Sexual Assaults

by on May 01, 2014 6:00 AM

A victim advocate group is encouraging Penn State to implement recommendations in a new White House report on sexual assaults involving college students.

The White House task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released a report Tuesday that includes guidelines and recommendations for identifying the problem, preventing sexual assault, and proper response after a sexual assault has occurred.

Roughly 60 percent of sexual assaults never get reported to police, making it one of the most underreported crimes in the United States, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

The White House report acknowledges the underreporting of sexual assaults saying often victims blame themselves or do not report the crime due to various fears. The report asks universities not to ignore the issue, but rather, draw attention to it and subsequently send the message to victims that it's okay to speak up.

The report suggests a campus climate survey to gauge the prevalence of sexual assaults on campus, test students' aptitudes and awareness of the issue, and provide schools with tools to address the issue.

"We call on colleges and universities to voluntarily conduct the survey next year," the report states. "Again, a school that is willing to get an accurate assessment of sexual assault on its campus is one that's taking the problem – and the solution – seriously."

Delilah Rumburg, CEO of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, was at the White House Tuesday for the formal release of the report.

"I think it is a huge victory for all of our programs who work with campuses," Rumburg says. "The report recognized the need for comprehensive support for survivors and the importance of campuses working with local community based programs."

As it applies to Penn State, Rumburg encouraged the administration to become familiar with the report, begin to review policies that are currently in place, "and determine how as a campus they can be proactive in responding to the recommendations and new requirements."

Penn State Vice President for student affairs Damon Sims praised the report.

"The new guidance from the White House Task Force is welcomed evidence of a growing national commitment to these important concerns," Sims says. "We have yet to completely review the guidelines, but we are confident they express a purpose and commitment Penn State shares."

The report recommends universities follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention best practices, which show the most effective prevention programs are comprehensive, long-term programs – not brief, one-time educational programs.

When responding to a victim after a sexual assault, the report calls for universities to train confidential victim advocates who can provide emergency and ongoing support. Additionally the report calls for universities to draft a confidentiality policy that is clearly outlined to a victim in terms of who their information will be shared with as well as clearly publicize the formal policy to report an assault.

The report also calls for better specialized training with campus police and other school officials and enhanced investigative protocols when it comes to handling evidence and interviewing the victim and witnesses.

Experts say one in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime with college-aged women most likely to be victimized.

Penn State University has seen a dramatic increase in such crimes since 2010 when four on-campus sexual assaults were reported compared to 56 in 2012.

The university attributes part of the increase to the crimes of Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach convicted of child abuse, as well as an increase in university training related to sexual assault prevention and reporting.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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