New Report About Sexual Violence on College Campuses

by Cara on December 10, 2009

in assholes, courts, discrimination, education and schools, misogyny, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls

The Center for Public Integrity has released a three-part report on sexual violence on college campuses, and the response of administrators to such allegations. Part one talks about the culture of secrecy surrounding sexual assault proceedings. Part two talks about the barriers to reporting sexual assault on campus, and how such reports are actively discouraged. And part three discusses how colleges are under-reporting the number of sexual assaults that are committed on their campuses.

Thankfully, the information is presented in a highly digestible form — and I recommend you go read it all for yourselves. But it’s also a huge amount of information, and there are more things to write about it than I can count — from the student told that she would face disciplinary action if she shared the outcome of the sexual assault hearing she had initiated, to the fact that “mediation” (mediation!) is regularly offered as a resolution to allegations of sexual violence, to the administrator who actually told a student that one of her options was to have that administrator call the perpetrator into her office and tell him that what he did was wrong. Schools are actively sweeping allegations under the rug, and since the victim leaving the school is an incredibly common outcome, seemingly also just trying to get rid of the accuser, period.

But in all of this information — and again, there is a lot — one thing in particular stood out at me. And it was the repeated allegation, from many, many sources, that the administrators were motivated by a desire to save the reputation of their schools. Of course, administrators all act appalled at the suggestion. But I can only presume that with so many victims, so many victims advocates, so many victims’ parents, and finally an impartial outside source, concluding independently that this is a main motivating factor, there has to be some truth to it.

This strikes me not because it’s some big surprise, but because it’s a damn travesty. And it’s a travesty not just because the rights and needs of a victim of violence should come before any other such trivial consideration, but also because they’re quite frankly handling their own comparably petty concern absurdly.

Only in a misogynistic rape culture is it possible for an institution to go about avoiding the appearance of sexual assault taking place on their campuses by telling the victim to shut the fuck up rather than by rooting out the offenders and getting them off the campus. It’s a bizarre reaction. For most people, if you want to avoid being seen as a liar, you try not to lie. If you don’t want to be seen as a thief, you don’t steal things. If you don’t want people to think you’re a jerk, you try to be a considerate, nice person. And if you don’t want your campus being perceived as unsafe, you try to make it safer.

Unless, of course, you want to take the easy way out, and making your campus safer involves refusing to partake in a misogynistic culture.

Yet again, we run up against the diametric perceptions of rape as theoretically even worse than murder, and as practically on par with accidentally bumping into someone on the sidewalk. Because rape is, in practice, seen as negligible, no big deal, a molehill turned into a mountain, administrators can dismiss the woman standing in front of them, speaking of being raped the night before. Because rape is, abstractly, treated as the greatest horror one can commit, and one that only a subhuman monster could even consider, those administrators have an even bigger reason to dismiss that woman, lest their institution be seen as a home to those kinds of monsters. They’d rather it be the habitat of actual rapists than perceived as the habitat of mythical ones.

That’s a big problem to unpack, because it’s rooted in so many different aspects of rape culture — from victim-blaming to rape denialism, from the idea that rape is not a common occurrence to the idea that rape is an unstoppable, unpreventable force not worth fighting. But we do know from repeated demonstration that student activism can go a long way towards changing individual school policies. And so if you’re a college student, despite the enormity of the problem, you shouldn’t feel helpless — rather, you should be getting to work. I recommend SAFER’s newly launched initiative, the Campus Accountability Project as a great place to start.

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{ 9 comments }

1 tufts survivor December 10, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Thank you so much for writing this. I was raped at my former school and they didn’t believe me. They didn’t take it seriously at all and basically ignored it and called me crazy. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not haunted by the betrayal and inaction of the administration members. They let a rapist go free while giving him a pat on the back while they beat me down and laughed. I will never be the same.

2 Francesca December 11, 2009 at 7:33 pm

[Trigger for bullying?]

This doesn’t surprise me at all – I hope no one takes offence at my input, but I was a victim of bullying and physical assault at my university, and was told that the only way the bully would be punished would be if I accepted punishment too. As in, I’d obviously done something to provoke her, although there was no evidence of that. The same university told a friend of mine that it was not in fact that she was being bullied, but that SHE was victimizing the bully.

I know it’s not the same as rape in the slightest. In my relatively minor case, the lack of closure (and the idea that she was STILL THERE) freaked me out, and I have insomnia and nightmares because of that, two years later. This is a terrifyingly pervasive issue and schools MUST do something about it. The thing is, who wants to say you’re a victim, and gather other victims together, in front of a university who doesn’t believe you, or if they do, doesn’t care, and in front of the person who hurt you so badly and on purpose? I wouldn’t. Universities for many people represent the first step towards really growing up, leaving home and learning to be a competent, well-rounded adult while still in a safe, youthful environment. And yet there really is no one who will protect you when they should.

3 karak December 11, 2009 at 8:53 pm

How much money do you want to bed that, when a school finally does start treating sexual assault seriously, suddenly, it will be “impossible” and “immoral” to leave the name of a victim out of the public eye?

4 gemma December 12, 2009 at 5:16 am

all i can say is : ._.

5 sb December 14, 2009 at 10:03 am

This is an amazing analysis–thank you for posting it. In addition to their immersion in rape culture, I think a lot of administrators are stuck in the paradigm, from other areas of student affairs, that ALL students (including perpetrators) are their constituents. So most admins are coming from a place of “how can I serve all students fairly in this situation?” I don’t think they are, for the most part, even conscious that this “business as usual” is inherently oppressive. Students have a unique power to make this clear.

The best schools set up an equitable hearing process and/or a track for victims to report and pursue criminal charges. At the same time, they adopt zero tolerance for traces of rape culture and provide direct victim support from folks at the institution whose job it is. These folks are usually bound by confidentiality laws that release them from the threat of losing their jobs if they push back against the institution in the mentoring/counseling process. So, victim advocates, therapists who work with perpetrators, etc.

This also makes room for administrators to work on culture change and other strategies for prevention.

You’re right, of course, that student voices are the strongest in this equation. I wish more schools were farther along but the more voices we raise to change both rape culture and the institutions that reproduce it, the more progress we can make…………..

6 Jennifer Kesler December 18, 2009 at 11:50 am

ALL FELONIES ARE POLICE MATTERS. Go directly to the police, and don’t even bother telling the school about it. They can find out FROM the police.

I am saying this because when I was in high school, the local school (UT-Knoxville) got caught advising students to report sexual assaults to THEM and not the police. Telling them they HAD to notify campus security, and campus security would decide if the cases should be passed onto police. This turned out to mean: if a case involved one of the football team members, it didn’t merit police attention, as the Vols were a big source of money for the town. If they involved some other kid whose daddy wasn’t too important, well, maybe they got to the police.

After the scandal broke, the sheriff was very vocal in the press, saying felonies must ALWAYS be reported to a real law enforcement agency, and absolutely NO ONE can legally tell you to report it elsewhere first.

I think we just really need to spread the word about this, because clearly not all young people realize: you have a CIVIL RIGHT to go to the police with any crime report.

Not that the police have a perfect record on taking assaults seriously, but I’d definitely take my chances with them over taking chances on the school, which really just can’t be an impartial third party, with both the accused and accuser being part of it.

7 Cara December 18, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Jennifer, yes, obviously it’s incredibly wrong for anyone to tell someone to not go to the police, or for someone to be unaware of their rights. But I think the issue here is that a lot of the victims went to the school because they didn’t feel safe/comfortable going to the police, and/or felt that the school would/could do more, since the standards of a criminal trial are a lot higher (or should be). Personally, I don’t trust the police any more than I trust a school administration. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

8 The_Quilter December 21, 2009 at 11:43 pm

I agree with Jennifer Kesler. If a woman has been raped she should go to the police, not the university administration. The university administration is neither set up for or is competetnt to deal with criminal matters. It is important to teach women that rape is a crime which needs the prosecutorial system of the gov’t and not the mediation arm of the teaching institution.

9 Emily February 8, 2010 at 11:32 am

I don’t think the problem is that administrations only treat rape as a horrible crime in the abstract, I think (as a college student myself) it’s because they subscribe to the view that it’s only rape if a stranger jumps out at the victim from behind some bushes and beats her up in the process and she screams and fights back. I think that to many university administrations, rape by an intimate partner, rape because the victim was too incapacitated to consent, and so on aren’t really seen as “rape”, but within the bounds of a normal sexual relationship on a college campus. Sadly, it’s probably true that such events are “normal”, but it doesn’t mean that it’s right or that it can be ignored.

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