Keeping all students safe on campus is a top priority for college officials, but when it comes to helping keep young women safe there's one subject officials don't want to discuss.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, most college officials now steer clear of any talk relating to alcohol. Why?
In the past year, colleges have come under increasing pressure to properly deal with reports of sexual assault. They have a legal obligation to resolve such reports promptly and fairly, penalizing those found responsible. If the institutions mishandle the reports, they may be found in violation of the gender-equity law known as Title IX, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
As a result, many campuses are going on the offensive—offering educational programs, often online courses, that warn about the dangers of sexual assault and tell students how to prevent it. Soon, under new federal regulations, such training will be mandatory.
But most programs don’t focus on students’ decisions, including how much to drink. One reason is that, for 15 years, the Department of Justice has run a grant program that serves as a major source of funds to colleges developing resources for sexual-assault prevention. Campus efforts considered "out of scope" for the grants include programs that "focus primarily on alcohol and substance abuse," the grant program says online. It points administrators away from an emphasis on "changing victim behavior."
Darcie Folsom, director of sexual-violence prevention and advocacy at Connecticut College, believes that warning women about the dangers of alcohol overconsumption is akin to asking what a rape victim was wearing.
By that logic we shouldn’t be encouraging women to walk with friends instead of alone late at night or in deserted areas.
Kathleen A. Bogle learned that alcohol could be off limits when she tried to deliver a talk several years ago called "Hooking Up, Alcohol, and Sexual Assault: Understanding the Connections and Reducing the Problem." It was for a meeting sponsored by the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, and federal officials asked Ms. Bogle, an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at La Salle University, to remove the word "alcohol" from the title. Focusing on how much students drink, they said, leads to blaming victims.
"This starts to censor how we can talk about the issue," says Ms. Bogle. "I don’t think you are doing young women any favors by saying, We’re not going to tell you that this happens—and be careful about it."
Most sexual assaults happen after women voluntarily consume alcohol; relatively few occur after they have been given alcohol or drugs without their knowledge, according to an article in the Journal of American College Health in 2009 by Mr. Krebs and other researchers. Yet sexual-assault-prevention programs, it says, "seldom emphasize the important link between women’s use of substances … and becoming a victim of sexual assault."
Encouraging responsibility for one’s actions isn’t “blaming the victim.” It’s a key help in preventing victimization in the first place.