How To Fight Against Sexual Violence At University? The Example Of The United States

American universities have an obligation to fight against sexual violence. Tools have been put in place, with varying degrees of effectiveness.

In the wake of the Olivier Duhamel affair, who left Sciences Po Paris after being targeted by charges of incest, testimonies are multiplying to denounce the sexual assaults and rapes committed in the institutes of political studies . If in France, the subject has long been taboo and the words of victims are only emerging , in the United States, the question is not new.

A crucial law of 1972

Since 1972, an American federal law – entitled “Title IX” – has prohibited all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender in establishments subsidized by federal funds. And, otherwise, the responsibility of the establishment. Depending on the universities and their resources, this amendment thus allowed the creation of an office or a referent called “Title IX”.

Originally, the main objective was to ensure fair treatment between women’s and men’s sports teams, but its missions are now much broader.

  • “This can take the form of a dedicated structure, at least a coordinator, whose vocation is to deal with these questions, including that of harassment and sexual violence”, explains to Esther Cyna, doctoral student at the he Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 University and Columbia University, specialist in the history of education in the United States.

The tools thus differ from one university to another. Crisis line, online form to report an assault, staff training, security patrols or self-defense courses for girls and mandatory program on consent in romantic and sexual relationships for all new students, the devices are varied.

Gigantic campuses

Because in the United States, the context is very different from that of France. University campuses are often very large and include both the place where the courses are held but also the places of life, socialization and all the sports or leisure activities of the students.

  • “I remember that when I arrived at Columbia University in New York, several people had just been specially hired to work full time on these issues and a specific program had been set up,” says Esther Cyna. .

In this university, the devices are indeed numerous. A dedicated website has been set up as well as an online form to report incidents, a telephone line is open 24/7, workshops are regularly organized, a voluntary support system between students is offered, a partnership has been set up with neighboring businesses in order to serve as shelters for victims and the latter can also benefit from the help and support of counselors and psychologists.

A mattress to denounce rapes

At the origin of this ambitious program, a resounding affair which had made a lot of noise. Emma Sulkowicz, an art student victim of rape, had denounced the position of this university which refused to exclude its alleged attacker. To do this, she only moved around with her mattress, a performance that had also been the subject of her graduation work – she even brought it to her graduation. In the process, 23 students had filed lawsuits against the university, accusing it of having done nothing to fight against sexual assault.

  • “Even if this law is old, that does not mean that the problems are resolved,” continues Esther Cyna. “Since the 1990s, there have been regular scandals of this order.”

As in France, certain establishments were thus implicated. A Texas university has been accused in particular of trying to cover up several cases of sexual assault involving players from its American football team by pressuring the victims to keep quiet, Le Monde reported in 2016 In 2014, some 85 universities had been targeted by federal investigations for their attitude in this kind of business, as reported by Huffpost.

A model victim support service

This is also pointed out by Soukayna Mniai, doctoral student at Paris-Nanterre University, specializing in the issue of sexual violence in American universities.

  • “The ‘Title IX’ offices opened in the late 1980s,” she told “Some states, like California, were very early on in this matter. But it was often as a result of cases and case law that ‘Title IX’ was invoked to put measures in place.”

With, in the best case, a service of assistance – psychological as legal – to support the victims in their steps, whether it is a question of finding a new accommodation so as not to reside near the aggressor or a development of courses so as not to see him on a daily basis.

  • “The ‘Title IX’ office can also handle disciplinary cases with a whole range of sanctions and can decide to exclude the aggressor, temporarily or permanently. But the sanctioned student can then take legal action against the institution, this are things that have happened before. And it can cost the university dearly. “

Things accelerated with the arrival of Barack Obama at the White House. In a letter to establishments, his administration urged them to take immediate action against sexual violence at the risk of seeing their federal subsidies reduced. Giving a boost to “Title IX” devices, in particular in the disciplinary framework with a simplified investigation procedure on sexual abuse. But with the arrival of his successor Donald Trump, some of these directives were partly canceled.

  • “If American universities are often cited as an example of victim assistance systems, something that is not yet done well enough in France, they still do not address the causes of violence, deplores Soukayna Mniai. They are still identified. to a lack of security. Anti-alcohol charters or programs are being developed so that girls have more self-confidence and learn to say no. But we can see it clearly, the presence of patrols or CCTV cameras do not prevent assaults. “

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