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.