Pa. attorney general launches college campus safety initiative
WEST CHESTER — Attorney General Josh Shapiro on Thursday announced a new campus safety initiative focused on preventing drug and alcohol abuse, mental health and sexual assault at colleges and universities across Pennsylvania.
“All across Pennsylvania, parents are taking their kids to college,” he stated in a release. “When they drive away from campus, of course they should be sad to leave them, but they shouldn’t be worried for their safety. I’m a dad to four young kids, and as Attorney General I’ll be working all year to make concrete improvements to campus safety across our Commonwealth.”
Pennsylvania is home to 750,000 students at 200 colleges and universities. Campus safety incidents have occurred in the state for more than 30 years, such as the rape and murder of Jeanne Clery at Lehigh University in 1986, which led to the passage of the Clery Act.
Shapiro has identified four key areas that require the attention of the entire community – drug addiction, alcohol abuse, mental health awareness and sexual assault prevention – and will use this campus safety initiative to highlight them at a series of roundtable discussions across the Commonwealth this fall.
These community-based roundtables will bring together students, victim advocates, survivors, local law enforcement, college and university staff and experts from different fields to identify strategies and promote responses that are survivor-centered and trauma-informed. The roundtables will take place at: Dickinson College, Lincoln University, Slippery Rock University, and University of Pittsburgh.
In launching this initiative, Attorney General Shapiro noted and commended other significant campus safety advocacy and work that has already occurred, including former Vice President Biden’s “It’s On Us” campaign, Gov. Wolf’s “It’s On Us PA”, and the Protection of Victims of Sexual Violence and Intimidation Act signed into law by then-Gov. Corbett.
“There is great work that has gone before us,” Shapiro said. “We want to build upon that work, and by working with students, university leaders, advocates and law enforcement, develop new ideas to promote safety for every student on every campus in Pennsylvania.”
Attorney General Shapiro was joined at the press conference by West Chester University President Christopher Fiorentino, Chester County DA Tom Hogan, Montgomery County D.A. Kevin Steele, Philadelphia DA Kelley Hodge, student leader Sabrina Glass, and a host of other university officials, students and safety advocates.
Sexual assault is a relevant topic for the roundtables, as students of college age are at higher risk for sexual violence than other age groups. Eleven percent of all college students experience rape or sexual assault, including 23 percent of female students.
Campus sexual assault is impacted by alcohol abuse, with nearly 70 percent of sexual assaults involving an intoxicated perpetrator and 43 percent involving an intoxicated victim. 1,700 college students die each year from alcohol-related injuries.
862 Pennsylvanians between the ages of 15 and 24 died from drug overdoses in 2016, and addressing drug use on campuses is critical to keeping students safe.
One in five young adults also experiences a mental health condition. These students often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. In addition, 1 in 12 college students admit to making a suicide plan at some point in their young lives.
“All of these issues are connected – drug and alcohol abuse, mental health and sexual assault,” Shapiro said. “To address one problem, we have to address them all as one community. We want to reduce the stigma for victims and survivors: it’s not your fault, and we’re here to support you and get the help you need. We hope students from all the colleges we plan to visit will bring their perspectives and voices into these roundtables.”
Following the roundtables, the Office of Attorney General will compile and assess the ideas discussed and raised and distribute the results to participants. The goal is to identify best practices and promote them throughout the coming school year across Pennsylvania.