[Ed. Note: The opinions expressed below are those of the author and not NBC News.]
The alleged rape of a young boy at Pennsylvania State University has been referred to as “the incident” or “the sex abuse scandal” for the past two weeks. This watered-down language distracts from the ugly truth behind the story: Rape happens in schools, on college campuses, in the church and within families.
The public needs to take ownership of this issue. The alleged rape at Penn State is not just specific to collegiate athletics, but it has certainly brought a high-profile program under scrutiny. Unfortunately, at some institutions we can’t deny the high-profile status of certain athletic programs. If harassment or violence against women (or men) is tolerated, it will perpetuate this behavior.
The good news is that this culture does not exist within all college athletic programs. It presents a challenge, specifically to male college athletes, to stand up against violence and sexual assault. Men need to be engaged in ending sexual violence.
The Jeanne Clery Act and Title IX, which are both under the oversight of the United States Department of Education, govern campus safety. Security On Campus, Inc. was founded by Connie and Howard Clery in 1987 after the brutal rape and murder of their daughter Jeanne by another student she did not know. They discovered that students had not been informed about 38 violent crimes on their daughter's campus in the three years before her murder.
So, they joined with other campus crime victims and persuaded Congress to enact the Jeanne Clery Act, which is enforced by the United States Department of Education. One of the intents of the Act is to institutionalize campus safety by requiring that institutions publish a public Annual Security Report containing three years of crime statistics and disclosing security policies. Institutions of higher education need to embrace the prevention and intervention of sexual violence in their community.
Campus police and public safety departments cannot be the sole stewards of these issues. The approach will only succeed if it is both top down and bottom up. Colleges and universities need to engage their boards of trustees or regents, president’s offices, students, and administrators to fully address sexual violence.
On many campuses there are pockets of administrators and students doing wonderful work in prevention and with victims and survivors. The American College Health Association issued a report in 2008 titled “Shifting the Paradigm.” It addressed the stake that campus communities have in prevention of sexual violence and all members of the community need to take ownership to “shift the paradigm” of prevention to truly prevent perpetration of these crimes. This is hard work to do, as it involves taking an honest look at policies and identifying the social norms on campus that support sexual violence.
This is a true call to action and teachable moment for cultures of entitlement in athletics and within other high-profile programs on campus. We need students to stand up and speak out against violence. We need our student leaders to model behavior that it is no longer acceptable to sit on the sidelines when you know that your teammates or classmates are engaging in sexually violent behavior. Furthermore, college and university administrators and police and public safety need ongoing education to understand the dynamics of sexual violence in order to respond to victims of these crimes.
Institutions must embrace both the letter and spirit of the Clery Act and Title IX laws to build safer campus communities that do not tolerate sexual violence. We all need to get off the sidelines, get in the game and end sexual violence.
Alison Kiss is the executive director of Security on Campus, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing violence on college campuses.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.