Is there a “rape culture” on college campuses? How widespread is it? And how can parents, university administrations and police prevent it?

What is consensual sex? “Colleges are trying to change students’ understanding of consensual sex – but it’s tough to transform entrenched dating norms. For decades, consent meant an absence of no. In the 1990s, Antioch College near Dayton was mocked on “Saturday Night Live” for enacting an affirmative consent policy. Now, the standard is: Yes means yes,” according to a 2018 article at Cleveland.com.

What is consent? “Consent is permission that is clear, knowing, voluntary, and expressed prior to engaging in and during an act. Consent is active, not passive. Silence, in and of itself, cannot be interpreted as consent. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create mutually understandable clear permission regarding willingness to engage in (and the conditions of) sexual activity,” according to Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio.

It’s On Us, a national nonprofit organization with the mission to combat college sexual assault by engaging young men and changing campus culture, announced that it will host the first National Student Leadership Summit to Combat Campus Sexual Assault at Ohio University from Aug. 2-5, 2019. The event will bring together hundreds of the nation’s top student organizers for an intensive weekend of trainings, workshops, keynotes and plenaries.

Launched in September 2014, It’s On Us is a national movement to end sexual assault. The campaign was launched following recommendations from the White House Task Force to Prevent Sexual Assault that noted the importance of engaging everyone in the conversation to end sexual violence. It’s On Us asks everyone – students, community leaders, parents, organizations, and companies – to step up and realize that the conversation changes with us. The purpose is to empower young men to see themselves as part of the solution to college sexual assault, and teach peer-to-peer sexual assault prevention education. The campaign works with 95 partners and students on over 500 campuses.

In 2015, the Ohio Department of Higher Education introduced a $2 million grant aimed at programs at state college and university campuses called Changing Campus Culture: Preventing and Responding to Campus Sexual Violence. The grant details five recommendations: 1. Use data to guide action. 2. Empower staff, faculty, campus law enforcement and students to prevent and respond to sexual violence through evidence-based training. 3. Communicate a culture of shared respect and responsibility. 4. Develop a comprehensive response policy. 5. Adopt a survivor-centered response.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office administers sexual-assault training at universities and is passing along $3 million in federal grants to fund campus programs. This money largely helps fund support services for survivors, according to a 2016 article in the Dayton Daily News.

“Federal law requires all colleges that accept federal money to investigate allegations of sexual violence. But the law doesn’t specify how. Schools handle claims of rape  and  sexual assault in myriad ways, whether a staff member metes out punishment, or a panel hears evidence. How police are involved varies,” according to a 2018 article at Cleveland.com.

The Ohio Department of Higher Education Changing Campus Culture initiative launched a campus climate survey for public two-year and four-year and private campuses about sexual violence. Eighty campuses in Ohio collected climate survey data on sexual violence between August 2016 and May 2018. More than 37,000 students completed surveys. Campus climate survey data belongs to each individual campus.

What about Greek organizations and the rape culture? According to the National Institute of Justice, 25 percent of sexual-assault victims surveyed were sorority members but only 14 percent of non-victims surveyed belonged to a sorority. Is it time to ban fraternities?

Parents, please have multiple conversations with your high-school seniors before sending them off to college, both daughters and sons. Freshmen are most at risk. The incidence of sexual assault declines with each year. Contact the college/university and ask questions about their sexual-assault prevention polices and safety programs.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Southern Ohio.

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