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Republican Leaders Just Proved They Don’t Understand Campus Sexual Assault

This week — in between affirmations of “traditional” family values and the Pledge of Allegiance — drafters of the Republican Party platform debated if schools should handle campus sexual assault.

In a statement straight out of an Internet comment section, one delegate pushed for schools to relinquish any obligations to combat gender-based violence. While his amendment was ultimately defeated (after a spirited debate featuring mentions of the Duke lacrosse team and OJ Simpson), the platform that resulted is a contradictory jumble:


Image Credit: Zeke Miller

It’s ironic that, in a document ostensibly dedicated to Title IX, Republicans refuse to acknowledge that campus rape is both a crime and a violation of a person’s civil rights. That’s a big, concerning omission since under Title IX schools are charged with affirmatively addressing discrimination based on sex, which includes gender-based violence. And for all the platform drafters’ derisive comments that the “faculty lounge” shouldn’t be handling these cases, it is schools, not law enforcement, that are best positioned to speedily provide accommodations such as counseling or academic support that survivors need to stay in school.

The platform document is a case study in magical thinking. By pushing survivors into the criminal justice system, Republicans (claim to) hope to increase the number of rapists that are convicted without doing the necessary work of reforming how the system treats survivors. It’s a naive, patronizing assumption, particularly when every survivor already knows that calling the police isn’t often an option. In fact, many of us affirmatively have chosen not to report to the police because we know the criminal legal system is too broken to deliver justice. We know that police departments have betrayed thousands of survivors by falsely declaring their cases “unfounded,” refusing to test their rape kits, and even perpetrating sexual violence in their role as law enforcement officials. And for many survivors, particularly survivors of color, the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile underscore just how dangerous it is to interact with law enforcement at all.

But rather than grapple with these issues, Republicans instead spend their time complaining about the Obama Administration’s supposed “micromanaging” of colleges and universities. Although Title IX has required schools to address peer sexual violence for more than two decades, most schools did nothing until the Department of Education published guidance for schools in 2011. Now that the combined pressure of survivors, media attention, and federal enforcement finally presents a legitimate threat to their reputation and bottom line, (some) schools are slowly starting to follow the law. But if Republicans successfully weaken enforcement efforts, many institutions will revert back business as usual.

By contrast, the Democratic platform clearly positions sexual violence as a civil rights issue:

Democrats will fight to bring an end to sexual assault because everyone deserves a safe environment where they can learn and thrive, not live in fear. We will provide comprehensive support to survivors, and ensure a fair process for all on-campus disciplinary proceedings and in the criminal justice system. We will increase sexual violence prevention education programs that cover issues like consent and bystander intervention—not only in college, but also in secondary school.

It’s disturbing that one of the two major political parties has completely missed the point when it comes to gender-based violence on college campuses. But then again, being bad on rape isn’t anything new for the Republican Party.

If you want to see the full debate, check out the clip below:

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Alyssa Peterson serves as a Campaign Coordinator for Know Your IX, a national survivor-run, student-driven campaign to end campus sexual violence.  

Alyssa Peterson serves as a volunteer Campaign Coordinator for Know Your IX.

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