Task force to tackle sexual assaults on campuses


NEW ORLEANS – For the first time, a task force of lawmakers and other state leaders met to tackle the issue of sexual assaults on college campuses.

Surveys show that one in five women will be sexually assaulted while in college. Yet so many of those are never reported, which is why state Sen. J.P. Morrell formed a new task force dedicated to tackling the issue.

Wednesday they met for the first time.

“We are going to work to create a standardized climate survey that will go out to all the universities and we hope to do that annually or biannually, where students will be able to submit anonymous data,” said Morrell, D-New Orleans.

Morrell said the surveys are vital to helping the task force because without the data they cannot create policies that work. He said part of that is identifying and changing what is not working, including loopholes in the Federal Clery Act, which requires universities to report campus crimes, like sexual assault, to the federal government.

“Cleary only requires that you report a sexual assault that takes place on campus or adjacent property, so if you have two students and a sexual assault takes place at an off-campus fraternity house, that is never reported,” said Morrell.

Tania Tetlow, a law professor at Tulane University, said changes are already happening as lawmakers hone in on the issue because it is forcing universities to take a closer look at their own policies.

“From domestic violence in the NFL to campus rape and rape in the military, people are really paying attention and understanding this is a massive problem and it needs to be solved,” says Tetlow.

A recent report done by the Board of Regents found that in Louisiana, campuses all handle sexual assaults differently and that is why the new task force is hoping to create a uniform, statewide policy.

However, Tetlow said it will not be easy.

“There’s a lot of complexity to the issue and a lot of it really requires a culture change so that victims don’t feel ashamed,” Tetlow said.

Morrell said it will be difficult, but said they have already done the hardest part – getting the conversation started.

This year, LSU reported 10 on campus forcible sex offenses for 2013, which is up from the three reported the year before.

Similarly, Tulane University reported seven on-campus sex offenses in 2013 compared to the four the year before. Tulane also reported five additional sexual assaults that occurred in student housing.