Campus sexual assault: A new report and reform effort

Yesterday the Center for Public Integrity released an investigative report on the dizzying amount of utter bullshit faced by survivors of sexual assault on college campuses.

A full 95 percent of rapes on campus go unreported and, the Center reports,

[T]hose who come forward can encounter mystifying disciplinary proceedings, secretive school administrations, and off-the-record negotiations. At times, policies lead to dropped complaints and, in cases like Russell’s, gag orders later found to be illegal. Many college administrators believe the existing processes provide a fair and effective way to deal with ultra-sensitive allegations, but alleged victims say these processes leave them feeling like victims a second time.

Go check out the whole investigation.

Reading stuff like this is often so disheartening. Which is why I was so glad to see SAFER and V-Day are launching an effort to respond: the Campus Accountability Project.

The project invites all students to become researchers and advocates for better policies at their own schools. Check out the database of policies across the nation. Your school not listed? Incomplete data? Take action! Submit info on your school’s policies and programs. Then,

“In the 2011-2012 school year, V-Day and SAFER will review the data collected, assess the state of the nation’s campus sexual assault policies, follow up with students to find out what changes they have started on their campuses, and make recommendations based on the data that you’ve collectively input.”

Awesome. Get involved here.

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10 Comments

  1. forest_city_feminist
    Posted December 2, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    As someone who has been involved with work to fight sexual assault on campuses, and to support survivors, for many years, I’m so glad that this issue is getting some attention, and that V-Day and SAFER are taking this on.
    On another note, regarding the photo, which I assume comes from the investigative report: it says (in very tiny type at the bottom) that this student was assaulted in her on-campus apartment. So why is she pictured here in a dark, empty parking garage? Why is it necessary to continue to promote the idea that women are overwhelmingly assaulted by strangers in dark alleyways, when we know the majority of assaults are perpetrated by people and in environments that women know?

  2. uberhausfrau
    Posted December 2, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    ive been away from college for almost seven years and i STILL get pissed off about the shit more school pulled when i was there- one board member said on the record she didnt want to put in the blue emergency phones on campus because they might make the school “look unsafe.”
    i just recently looked online and they are showing the incident reports and at least now they are contacting the local cops instead of just trying to keep it a campus matter.

  3. Andre
    Posted December 2, 2009 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for that article. Up until this point, I thought it was only at my school.
    I was raped on campus by a fellow student, and actually went through the horrible and painful process of reporting it to my school’s authorities, only to see him get away with the most ridiculous lies and nonsense allegations. I have been silenced, and the school pretended it never happened. When a fellow student reported a similar assault with the same guy the school finally punished him (and they almost didn’t!)…by suspending him for a semester. They cared more that he was an outstanding student than that he was a rapist.
    It is an absolutely ridiculous system which hurts the victims more than helps them.

  4. crshark
    Posted December 2, 2009 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Many administrators hide behind the “privacy” excuse because they don’t want the frequency of sexual assaults at their campus to be disclosed to the public. However, as the article points out, the FERPA privacy regulations, which college administrators typically cite as forbidding them from disclosing proceedings or hearings regarding sexual assault allegations, explicitly permit colleges to disclose the outcome of the proceedings to the alleged victim.
    Unfortunately, victims of sexual assault who wish to complain to the U.S. Department of Education about the colleges’ lack of compliance with the law are face with further bureaucratic challenges from the Department. While the Department of Education enforces both Title IX (which requires colleges to investigate and remedy claims of sexual harassment, including sexual assault) and FERPA (which applies to student privacy), these federal laws are enforced by separate offices within the Department. And the office that enforces Title IX compliance doesn’t have the authority to cite a college for violations of FERPA.

  5. southern students for choice
    Posted December 2, 2009 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Kristen Lombardi has done numerous stories on this in the past, all well-researched and written along these lines and worth commenting more on. There’s just three words, and a little elaboration, which would add a lot more to this article, namely:
    in loco parentis
    …which is a legal doctrine that colleges are increasingly coming back to.
    It’s worth noting the connection between themes in the story linked to above and “in loco parentis” because so much of both is about getting the university off the hook from charges of civil liability to where proceedings like those referred to in the article are becoming increasingly common — supposedly to protect student privacy — while at the same time breaching student privacy by increasingly contacting parents when their (adult) child’s behavior crosses some dysfunctional line (though well befre suspected suicidal or homicidal behavior which would reasonably be grounds for intervention in numerous ways).
    There are obvious problems with this sort of unconsented disclosure of information, but one that may be less obvious is how few parents of college students are really up to the task anyway of intervening if their son or daughter is behaving in very dysfunctional ways. Parents who had difficulty helping their children before colege may be even less able (or willing) to do so once they are in college, as many parents distance themselves from their children, follow through on plans for separation or divorce, or otherwise become even less able to productively try to help a young person who may well need help. This is not to say that informal contact between students not officially representing the university like friends or roommates shouldn’t take the initiative to involve parents, but when school officials take the initiative to do that, it may be more about protecting the school than the students – women and men – who are involved.
    If policies like those described in the paragraph above and in the article by Kristen linked to earlier saves the school money (or reduces their legal committments and liability, which is about the same thing) and seems to parents and the various funding sources the school depends on it’s easy to have changes in policies like these tolerated, if not encouraged.

  6. R. Dave
    Posted December 2, 2009 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    I have mixed feelings about this issue. On the one hand, victims should never feel like they have to keep silent about what happened to them. On the other hand, if actual criminal charges aren’t brought (or there’s an acquittal), then it makes sense for the university to respect the privacy of the accused on “innocent until proven guilty” grounds.
    Similarly, I think it’s important for universities to provide alleged victims with support and to have a system for determining whether/when it’s appropriate to expel an accused student, but I’m not comfortable with universities creating what amounts to their own criminal justice systems. Almost invariably, when universities act like quasi-governmental entities (e.g. with their own police forces, judicial proceedings, housing rules, speech codes, etc.), they trample the substantive and procedural rights of students. Think dorm searches conducted without warrants, censorship of speech and assembly rights, illegal gag orders like those described here, etc.
    As I think about it, actually, I wonder if the solution is to stop thinking of university proceedings as a second shot at punishment after the criminal system takes a pass, and instead look to the civil courts. After all, the standard of proof in civil court is quite low (“more probable than not”), and the victim could make withdrawal from the university part of the remedy sought. In other words, maybe the best approach is for universities to provide support services to victims, but encourage those victims to seek punitive remedies against the alleged attacker through the courts.

  7. Tufts Survivor
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if the solution is to stop thinking of university proceedings as a second shot at punishment after the criminal system takes a pass, and instead look to the civil courts.
    The problem with that is that civil matters still take a very long time to finish and the alleged perpetrator could graduate while all of this happening.
    Another issue is access and money. Not everyone can afford a lawyer who would be willing to do the case and the lawyers willing to do it on a contingency fee are VERY picky about the cases they pick up and sexual assault cases are still hard to prove in that arena.
    The benefit of the school system is that the process is much quicker than the court system and it is free. While there obviously won’t be a completely even “playing field” so you can say, it would be a lot quicker and easier for both students involved if school judicial proceedings are used.

  8. Heather B.
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    I’m a new member but have been reading for a while. This post really struck a chord, and I placed a link as a status update on my facebook to get more people to see it, though i was afraid of someone commenting insensitively. I had reason to be worried.
    http://tinyurl.com/yk4nt4h
    I’m not really sure how to respond, or if i should.
    He sees the problem as only “self esteem” issues, and says the victims are being selfish.

  9. GuerillaGirl
    Posted December 4, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Wow…. reading this is disappointing!!! I mean about campuses and the justice they offer students…. I went to a Liberal arts private college in Winter Park, Fl for two years. There were these HUGE stickers on the back of women’s stall doors in every bathroom of the school-not just the dorm bathrooms basically saying what to do if you are sexually assaulted. An on-campus number to call, an after-hours number to call, and if you want to do it through an off-campus advocate group you can do that too. It says when you call to ask for a confidential advocate… On campus if any professors or peer-mentors know of a sexual assault that occurs on campus they HAVE to report it. And if you call campus security and mention rape or sexual assault or any thing like that they are required to call the local police department.

  10. southern students for choice
    Posted December 4, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Heather, trying to have a constructive dialogue with someone who disagrees with you online can be a lot harder than doing it in person. You don’t see him, you can’t read his body language, and you know nothing about his background and can only go by the few words you’ve read. If this person (probably a guy) thinks that on the one hand a woman who doesn’t report an incident that she considers to be rape to be “selfish” and in another moment to lack “self-esteem”, right away they’re putting the women in a double bind (as someone who is “selfish” might have an inflated or distorted idea of self-esteem, and not be so much lacking in it).
    You don’t have to respond if you don’t want to, but if you want to comment, you might say something nonaccusitory and say you want to end the dialogue with him now, and suggest he go to a counselor that handles cases like this to get a better understanding of how women feel in cases like these, which he could do especially easily if he’s a student on a campus with a counseling service. Some women might be a lot more confrontational in what they say, and this isn’t to try to put words in your mouth, but in any case if you respond and don’t just delete or ban his profile you probably should say what you want to say and say you want to end this conversation. You might also block him at that point, and he will understand why, he must know what he’s saying is insensitive.
    One thing that might be said is that one reason why women in particular like those described in the linked articles aren’t involved in a prosecution of rape is that the local DA didn’t think it met their standards for prosecution. He may not understand (or care) that some of these women clearly did report an assault, or tried to. But even if they do so the local DA may decide not to prosecute, and if that happens it does not mean a rape didn’t happen, or that the college can’t do something to help the woman (and maybe even the guy) involved. Kristin’s articles help show that many colleges are failing very badly at doing that, are apparently doing so in some cases to help protect the school from bad publicity (or difficult questions from parents) and lawsuits, and are only changing their policies with strong pressure from students and parents, and this article is about raising awareness and bringing about that change.
    The point of Kristin’s article (which he might not have really read, understood, or cared about) is not that necessarily all of these cases should have been prosecuted with every count possible for rape, but rather that college administrators and campus legal authorities clearly acted in many cases insensitively at best towards the women involved in these cases, and in some cases there is evidence that they actively discouraged women from filing criminal charges or pursuing a civil suit.
    So he’s really missing the point of the articles, it’s not that these women did not want to file a report – some did — but rather the administrations involved in many inconsistent and unjust ways not only did not make that process any easier for them but in significant ways discouraged the women from asserting their legal rights and made the effect of the incident even worse for them.
    To men who will listen (and maybe this guy isn’t one of them, not now, anyway), another point is to say that over the long run this not only hurts women but men too, and not only men who are sympathetic to begin with but even the perpetrators who the system might be able to better rehabilitate, who otherwise might go on to be involved in future cases like this, or in families where similar offensive behavior continues, helping perpetuate the cycle.

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