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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.