The Nebraska State Capitol

Young people head to college armed with dorm supplies, textbooks and high expectations. What they’re less prepared for is dealing with unwanted sexual contact — including rape.

Yet studies say sexual violence is common on the nation’s campuses. In a national survey last year, 11 percent of female undergraduates said they had been raped, half of them by force, the American Association of Universities found.

It’s largely a hidden problem, however. Three-fourths of the victims raped by force told surveyors they never reported the assaults to university or law enforcement authorities. That’s why Nebraskans should not be complacent about the 24 rapes reported at the state’s colleges in 2014. The actual number could be much higher.

Nebraska’s major university campuses — including UNL, UNO and Creighton — have taken steps to combat sexual violence. They say more needs to be done, but funding their efforts is tough to do. NU officials told state lawmakers that competition is growing for federal funding. They endorse a proposal by State Sen. Adam Morfeld to create a state-funded college grant program.

As outlined in Legislative Bill 1027, schools would compete for funding for programs such as education and awareness, training, prevention, reporting, bystander intervention and research-based threat assessment. The grants would be administered by the attorney general, with involvement from the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.

Why do victims remain silent? “Many college rapists target victims who are drugged, drunk, passed out, or otherwise incapacitated — creating a situation in which victims may be less likely to report and where prosecutors may be less likely to prosecute,” the Justice Department says.

Such assaults can result in physical injury, depression, low self-esteem and anxiety disorders. “Rape frequently devastates the victim and derails her education and her future,” the U.S. Justice Department says.

The problem extends beyond actual rape. Up to 20 percent of college women report being subjected to unwanted sexual contact, according to Jan Deeds, associate director of the Women’s Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Nor are women the only victims.

Morfeld’s bill was prompted by concerns raised by his UNL student advisory committee. “When students are telling me this is a huge need and we still need a culture change on our university campuses, particularly in Lincoln,” he said, “I think we need to respond.”

Such a program could give this culture change a boost and help make our campuses safer.

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