- Higher ed institutions can better support survivors of sexual assault by providing individualized safety and academic accommodations, according to an October report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
- Colleges can offer trauma survivors escorts around campus and changes to their housing. They can also tailor services available to the broader student population, such as mental health counseling and referrals.
- Academic adaptations can also be provided, in the form of flexible grading, extensions on assignments and leaves of absence. The GAO found that colleges' Title IX offices were generally responsible for connecting survivors to these services.
The prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses is a widely acknowledged problem, the GAO said in its report to Congress.
A survey from the Association of American Universities found that about 1 in 4 undergraduate women and over 1 in 15 undergraduate men said they were sexually assaulted in 2019. And survivors of sexual violence are more likely to have lower GPAs and leave college before earning a credential, the report said.
For the report, GAO officials interviewed representatives from four colleges and eight organizations representing sexual violence survivors, student loan borrowers and higher ed institutions.
The overarching themes of their recommendations were flexibility and individualized care.
Each of the interviewed colleges had policies allowing sexual assault survivors to reduce their course loads or take time off. But one advocate noted that survivors may elect to take leaves of absence because they aren't receiving strong accommodations from their college.
Student safety is a priority in such situations, officials told the GAO. All of the interviewed colleges offered no-contact orders — administrative rulings barring students involved in Title IX complaints from contacting each other. Once officials hand down a no-contact order, sexual assault survivors can get changes in their class and work schedules and their housing assignments. Violations of the order can result in disciplinary action.
Colleges can also provide transportation accommodations and assist survivors with notifying the police about assaults, the GAO said.
In addition, colleges should offer flexible tuition refund policies for students who withdraw from classes due to sexual violence, interviewed officials told the GAO.
The U.S. Department of Education has several loan postponement and repayment plans for the general public that can benefit sexual assault survivors, the report noted.
Eligible students can pause making loan payments for six months after they leave college or drop to less than half-time enrollment, the GAO said. And income-driven repayment plans can allow some borrowers to pay little to nothing monthly toward their loans.
At the federal level, education officials have long grappled with how to handle sexual assault issues on college campuses.
In 2022, Congress passed a spending bill requiring the Education Department to create a student survey about sexual and dating violence on college campuses. It requires every federally funded college to distribute the survey and for the department to deliver a report on the project to Congress by 2024.
But Congress didn't give the agency funds to meet this goal, and experts immediately expressed doubt it could be met by the deadline.