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Equipping Students With Information About College-Campus Safety

The statistics about sexual assault on U.S. campuses are enough to worry any parent or student about to leave for college this fall:

One in five women is sexually assaulted in college. Incidents most often occur with someone the woman knows and most assaults are not reported.

These sobering facts were part of a report the White House released this spring with recommendations from a task force on how to protect students from sexual assault. It called for campus climate surveys, prevention programs, better plans to help victims, and more transparent enforcement efforts. The government also launched the website NotAlone.gov to help victims of sexual assault.

This month, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) released a report, "Sexual Violence on Campus: How Too Many Institutions of Higher Education Are Failing to Protect Students," which also calls for more training, campus coordination with law enforcement, and victim support.

Families can learn about the situation on a specific campus from the National Center on Education Statistic's free College Navigator website. For each college, users can check out the campus security section for a breakdown of crime incidents by year.

While this is an issue that campuses universally want to address, schools put different levels of resources into the effort, notes William Johnson, the associate dean of students at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. Some contract out campus security, while others have sworn law enforcement officers. Colleges may vary in the how much time they allow the Title IX coordinator, appointed to investigate issues of sexual violence, to put into the job.

At Fairfield, where Johnson serves as the Title IX coordinator, prevention of sexual assault was added about two years ago to the freshmen orientation agenda. University officials discuss the importance of respecting others, bystander intervention, and campus resources available to victims.

"We have to have these conversations. ... It's part of overall expectations of behavior and community standards," said Johnson. "We are trying to hit our new students early and often about this."

While colleges are making changes because "it's the right thing to do," Johnson said changes also stem from the 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights mandating procedures that campuses need to follow to address sexual harassment and violence.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling has information on its website about the Clery Act that requires schools receiving federal financial aid to disclose annually their policies and statistics about crime on campus

Also joining the effort is the American Association of University Women, which has online tools to help end sexual assault, such as strategies for women to fight off attacks, ideas of ways to engage faculty in the issue, and funding sources for awareness programs.

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