Updated: Aug. 28, 2014 at 3:02 p.m.
How to prevent sexual assault has become a top question on campuses nationwide as colleges grapple with how to protect their students.
Former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg faced that question Tuesday in an interview on the Diane Rehm Show. And his answer has drawn a storm of criticism: Trachtenberg said schools should educate women about the dangers of over consuming alcohol.
“Without making the victims responsible for what happens, one of the groups that have to be trained not to drink in excess are women. They need to be in a position to punch the guys in the nose if they misbehave,” Trachtenberg said on the show. “And so part of the problem is you have men who take advantage of women who drink too much and there are women who drink too much. And we need to educate our daughters and our children in that regard.”
More than 70 colleges and universities are under investigation by the Department of Education for their handling of sexual assault on campus. And last spring, the White House released a set of recommendations to improve college’s response to sexual violence. GW is not among the schools under investigation.
Jezebel, a liberal women’s issues blog, sarcastically called Trachtenberg’s plan “real fresh thinking” and a “failproof solution.”
Trachtenberg said Wednesday in an interview with The Hatchet that his response has been taken “out of context.”
“I don’t believe that because a woman drinks, that shifts responsibility from a predator to her. What I’m saying is you want to have somebody you care about like your daughter, granddaughter or girlfriend to understand her limits because she will be less likely to be unable to fight off somebody who is attacking her,” Trachtenberg said.
About one in five women will be victims of attempted or completed sexual assault in college, experts say, and about half of all sexual assaults involve alcohol, though estimates have topped 70 percent for both victims and perpetrators, according to a report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Trachtenberg said solving sexual assault on campus is a “two-way street.”
“You need to educate the men but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to arm your women with the ability to defend themselves,” Trachtenberg said. “It doesn’t shift the blame, ultimately, but you have to be wise and street smart.”
While alcohol can play a role in sexual assault, experts say education programs like bystander intervention – similar to the sessions GW held at Greek chapters last year – can also help.
The University released a statement Thursday that sexual assault on campus will “not be tolerated.”
“Sexual assault under any guise and regardless of the circumstances is repugnant and unacceptable,” the statement read.
University spokeswoman Candace Smith declined to comment on Trachtenberg’s remarks, deferring to a GW Today article released Wednesday that highlighted sexual assault resources available on campus.
“Creating a safe environment is a top priority and something that takes a community response to address,” Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said in the release. “GW students, no matter their gender, should never fear sexual violence or assault during their time on our campuses.”
The University reported 37 incidents of alleged sexual assault to the Department of Education between 2010 and 2012, the most recent data available, and launched an anonymous survey last spring on sexual harassment, stalking and dating violence to gauge the campus climate.
Trachtenberg appeared on the show to discuss fraternity and sorority life on campus, along with author Andrew Lohse, Chronicle of Higher Education contributor Jeffrey Selingo, The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan and Peter Smithhisler of the North-American Interfraternity Conference.
Here are a few tweets that followed Trachtenberg’s comments on the show:
does trachtenberg have office hours because i would like to teach him some things. i have a flipchart
— abigail williams (@sammylafrance) August 27, 2014
— Katherine Howell (@ProfessorHowell) August 27, 2014
— Peter Konwerski (@GWPeterK) August 27, 2014