A 19-year-old female UC Santa Barbara student reported to UCSB police that she was beaten and raped by multiple men in Isla Vista, Santa Barbara on Feb. 23. Sketches of two of the suspects were released several days after the assault and currently no arrests have been made.
This incident of sexual assault follows several others in Santa Barbara, including one woman who reported being raped just one day prior to the gang rape mentioned above, as well as another female UCSB student who reported being gang raped in Isla Vista in January.
While those cases are specific to UCSB, similar incidents are far from uncommon and serve to underline the broader problem of colleges and universities not properly addressing issues of sexual violence.
For example, UC Berkeley was recently scrutinized for the way it addresses sexual assault reports on campus. Thirty-one current and former UC Berkeley students filed federal complaints with the U.S. Department of Education, claiming UC Berkeley police discourage victivs from reporting sexual assaults, do not properly inform them of their rights when they do report and ultimately favor the assailant over the victim, if the case was even heard.
In light of events like this, it is essential that college police departments and administrations re-evaluate the way they respond to incidents of sexual assault. At UCSB, sexual assault has become so common that it was only the presence of multiple assailants that made police refer to the recent gang rape as an “extreme” case. We believe any incident of rape constitutes an extreme case, and more needs to be done than simply increasing the number of campus police, as UCSB did.
The same sentiment is expressed by UC Berkeley — students feel campus police have for decades seen sexual assaults as normal and of little concern. However, with the cases of these 31 women being taken to federal courts, UC Berkeley’s chancellor is responding to these outcries by allowing these women to appeal the rulings of their sexual assault cases and hiring more police to investigate these crimes.
The most important step UC Berkeley is making, which other campuses should consider, is trying to shift the mindset of the campus by joining such groups as “End Rape on Campus.” This group assists students at schools ranging from USC to University of North Carolina by providing free counsel on cases of sexual assault and helping ensure these cases are addressed legally. In their mission statement, they aid students in this way “in order to hold colleges and universities accountable for their handling of sexual misconduct.”
President Obama has also responded to the issue of sexual assaults on college campuses on a much larger scale. Created on Jan. 22, “The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault” intends to make sure sexual assault cases are addressed and prevented properly by colleges and universities.
Alongside steps to improve the legal and judicial proceedings involved with these sexual assault cases, as well as holding schools accountable for how they respond to sexual assaults, the task force charges our culture with changing the way we perceive sexual assaults.
President Obama also placed a great deal of importance on aiding the survivors of sexual assault. While it’s critical these cases are addressed properly, it’s just as important that the person behind the incident is not forgotten. This task force is yet another crucial step in ensuring that the increase of sexual assaults on college campuses is eradicated.
“End Rape on Campus” and President Obama’s task force strike at the heart of this issue, as each works to increase the awareness of the rise in sexual assaults on campus and teaches not only the police and students, but the entire campus community how to respond to these crimes efficiently and effectively.
In order to make sure every incident of rape and sexual assault is addressed properly, we need to work to change the way in which sexual assault and rape is perceived. We all need to see the seriousness of these sexual assault cases and recognize our role in not only preventing them from happening whenever possible, but also the way in which we respond to and perceive these acts of sexual violence.