Resolution on Student on Student Sexual Violence in Schools


Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, NFTY- The Reform Jewish Youth Movement, Women of Reform Judaism, and Men of Reform Judaism
Submitted to the URJ Biennial


The sanctity of human life is one of the core principles of Judaism, and sexual violence violates the holiness of every individual. Our ancient sages taught that rape is equivalent to murder (Sanhedrin 73a). As such, we have a moral obligation to work to prevent these acts of violence and to support those who have survived them. As the Talmud states, “All of Israel is responsible for one another” (Shavuot 39a).

According to RAINN,[1] “sexual violence” is an “all-encompassing, non-legal term that refers to crimes like sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse.”[2]  Definitions of consent vary by state,[3] but qualities include that it is freely given, can be withdrawn at any time, must be given for each activity each time, is dynamic and affirmative.[4]

While sexual violence occurs in all spaces, schools and campuses at all educational levels create unique challenges. About 90 percent of sexual assaults that occur in college are perpetrated by someone known to the victim,[5] and 18 percent of teens in dating relationships have experienced sexual abuse by their partner.[6] Victim-blaming is also prevalent: only 48 percent of women and 35 percent of men disagree with the claim that if a victim dresses or acts a certain way, it is their fault that they were assaulted or raped.  Studies show that 18 percent of college students and recent graduates believe that someone has consented to sexual activity as long as they did not say “no.”[7] [8]

All people, regardless of sex or gender, can become the victims or perpetrators of sexual violence. However, we know some groups experience sexual violence at disproportionate rates. The U.S. Department of Justice reported that 20 percent of high school girls[9] and 20 percent of women undergraduates[10] are the victims of completed or attempted acts of sexual violence. In a study of Canadian colleges, 30 percent of students reported being the victim of sexual assault at their school.[11] In the U.S., one in sixteen undergraduate men will also experience sexual violence while in college.[12]  LGBTQ students experience higher rates of sexual violence than heterosexual students,[13]  and 12 percent of transgender youth report experiencing sexual violence in K-12 settings.[14]

Schools and universities have a particular role in combatting violence because of their uniquely immersive character and because survivors of campus sexual assault may not trust the criminal justice system or may fear retaliation. Appropriate training in how to respond to victims and the adoption of model processes for intake of sexual violence reports reduces the impact of past trauma and decreases the likelihood of causing additional trauma. That eases the disclosure process for survivors and improves understanding of best practices by responders.[15] Unfortunately, Canadian schools and provincial governments have a patchwork of laws and policies when it comes to addressing the issue of campus sexual assault.[16]  In the United States, universities and K-12 schools have a legal obligation under Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972 to respond to reports of sexual assault. However, despite evidence that sexual violence is occurring on campuses,[17] 40 percent of schools have not pursued investigations of a single rape or sexual assault in as many as five years.[18] In 2014, 91 percent of schools reported zero incidents of rape.[19]

Schools can adopt policies that educate students about healthy relationships and encourages a campus culture that is respectful to all and supportive of survivors. Such policies include, but are not limited to: allowing accommodations for survivors, such as ensuring they are not in the same class or residence as their assailant and are provided with necessary physical and mental health services; and ensuring that resources and trained staff are available to handle complaints.

Governments can adopt legislation that holds academic institutions accountable for failing to properly respond to, and thoroughly investigate and enforce, reports of assault. They can also encourage the adoption of affirmative consent policies that clarify the definitions of rape and consent. At the same time, governments should reject proposals requiring survivors to report to the police in order to receive assistance from their academic institution. Such misguided policies diminish survivors’ autonomy to choose how they wish to respond to their traumatic experience.

The Reform Movement’s longstanding commitment to addressing gender-based violence, our commitment to strong educational institutions and our recent resolution affirming our commitment to transgender inclusion guide our commitment to addressing the issue of sexual violence as it arises in academic settings. Doing so through the direct provision of resources and the building of connections to expert sources reflects our status as a Movement committed to protecting students and young people from sexual violence and supporting survivors.


1.Affirm its commitment to protecting students from sexual violence and to supporting survivors of sexual violence.

2.Urge Reform congregations and institutions as well as lay and professional leaders to educate their constituents from an early age on preventing, responding to and dispelling myths around sexual violence. Such education, using resources from NFTY, the RAC and other expert sources, should include:

a.A focus on consent and healthy relationships;

b.Bystander intervention techniques and skills;

c.Resources for survivors of sexual violence and their caregivers, including trauma-informed-response training, and information on relevant state laws;

d.The training of clergy, staff, or lay leadership to create a safe and supportive atmosphere in which survivors of sexual violence are able to share their experience and receive help and support; and

3.Urge schools, colleges and universities to adopt best practices for reporting and handling, including investigations and appeals as appropriate, of sexual violence cases by trained professionals conducted with integrity, safety, and fairness to all involved.

4.Call on the U.S. and Canadian governments at all levels to implement and enforce policies, programs, and legislation that strengthen the legal and academic institutional response to reports of sexual violence by providing guidance and procedures that outline effective, safe and fair methods of response, adjudication and resolution by trained professionals.

Advocate for robust government funding of programs to aid survivors of sexual violence and funding for current and future programs to prevent violence.                      


[1] RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization.