To End the Campus Rape Epidemic, Let Go of Secrecy


Earlier this month, The Center for Public
Integrity (CPI) released a sobering, detailed series of reports–compiled over nine
months of research–on the problem of campus rape. The report, Sexual Assault on Campus: A
Frustrating Search for Justice
, included
detailed accounts of individual experiences on campuses around the country, as
well as statistics and analysis aggregating broader trends. All three parts of
the study, culled from interviews with 48 experts on the disciplinary process,
33 women who reported being raped on campus, surveys of over 150 crisis
centers, and 10 years of claims filed against universities, are well worth a
serious read.

Among the CPI’s findings: huge institutional and subtle cultural barriers
impede and discourage victims from pursuing justice, and a shroud of secrecy
makes information and figures on the incidence of rape and pursuing of rape charges murky at best. Furthermore, CPI’s
reporters found that loopholes in the federal campus crime reporting act (The
Clery Act) are being exploited by colleges, allowing them to under-report
statistics.

It’s a pyramid: more rapes are happening than are being reported, more students
are attempting to pursue justice than are able to, and more reported rapes are
going through university systems than are being announced publicly.

Some of the practices uncovered by investigative reporters Kristen Lombardi and
Kristin Jones even give evidence of skirting the law:

Many victims
don’t report at all, and those who do come forward can encounter secret
disciplinary proceedings, closed-mouthed school administrations, and
off-the-record negotiations. At times, school policies and practices can lead
students to drop complaints, or submit to gag orders — a practice deemed
illegal.


These
findings shore up what those of us who have spent time on a college campus in
recent years, or those of us who have simply read the headlines coming from
campus after campus, already know. When I was an undergrad reporting for the
school paper, students were vigorously protesting a university rule requiring
"corroborating evidence"–that’s right, third-party evidence, the
very notion of which is absurd–before a disciplinary board would pursue rape
allegations. Students at other universities at the time were facing similar
struggles to streamline, clarify, and provide transparency when it came to
counseling and reporting. Things haven’t changed very much since then.

Adding to these institutional difficulties is the overall, unquantifiably toxic
atmosphere when it comes to identifying, acknowledging and dealing with sexual
assault. Rape prevention programs, as Latoya Peterson blogged about earlier this
year, are widely varied in terms
of approach
and efficacy.
Terms like "walk of shame" and "sexiling" are tossed around
lightly, but reveal deep discomfort at the root of the culture surrounding
"hookups" on campus, and professional scolds like Laura Sessions Step
and her ilk admonishing young women doesn’t help. As Amanda Hess pointed out so
brilliantly earlier this year, gender inequality and slut-shaming contribute to
both the high incidence of rape on
campus and the much-obsessed over, but rarer incidence of false rape accusations.

Claire Gordon, who sat on a disciplinary committee hearing at Yale, describes this climate at Double X blog:

When students
finally land on campus as newly minted adults on unfamiliar turf, they are
unsurprisingly hesitant to report a sexual assault, most likely experienced as
a freshman and, for 70 percent of victims, perpetrated by someone they know.
Muddle in a few drinks and the double standard embedded in college hook-up
culture and guilt and self-blame are the predictable results. Even in the most
unambiguous case, reporting, let alone pressing charges, would be academically
and socially disruptive, even devastating. "Victim" is an uncomfortable
label for a teen carving out her first semi-independent home.

 

One of the most disturbing things about the culture of secrecy and total lack
of transparency uncovered by the CPI last week is that such a veiled system
makes progress really hard to measure. Campus rape won’t end until we attack
rape culture at its roots, but there are ways to curb the problem, such as
innovative, mandatory education programs, transparent channels for counseling
and reporting and student-led initiatives like Men Against Rape that target
fraternities and other student groups, or Take Back the Night events which
brings the issue into the open.

Another method that some schools have embraced and more should is to separate
rape prevention programming from campus sex ed programs, thereby clearly
delineating the difference between healthy sex between consenting parties and
rape, rather than contributing to the boundary-blurring that plagues the
issue.  A feminist-minded way of doing this is promoting a model of "enthusiastic
consent"
as posited in
the book Yes Means Yes (now being used for sex ed at
Colgate University
!); the idea
that consent is more than a lack of no, but a wholehearted yes.

It’s amazing that there are many groups working on new methods of prevention,
education and counseling  to change the culture on campuses, but it feels
as though they are often working against the very grain of their parent
institutions. If the number and details, (short of identifying information) of
reported rapes is kept under wraps and women are discouraged from coming
forward, then how can we determine which of these programs are effective? How
can we determine where and when rape is most likely to take place on a given
campus? The colleges highlighted by the CPI appear more invested in preserving
their reputations and saving face then genuinely helping their students.
Hopefully the reporting by the CPI will push them to open up on this topic.

Around the web

Blame Draconian Sex Offender Laws for Underreporting of
Campus Assaults
from XX blog – Dec 7, 2009

Sexual Assault On Campus: Schools Don’t Always Offer Much
Assistance 
from Jezebel – Dec 5, 2009

Sexual Assault on Campus, Still With Us from XX blog – Dec 2, 2009

Campus sexual assault: A new report and reform effort
from Feministing – Dec 4, 2009

Colleges on campus rape: Shhh! from Salon: Broadsheet – Dec 9, 2009

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  • emily-douglas

    Great piece, Sarah, thanks for covering it. I wonder–does the CIP report make any recommendations about whether external, criminal legal proceedings or internal, disciplinary board proceedings best bring about justice for survivors?

  • grayduck

    Before reading the reports, I knew that society placed little emphasis on protecting women from rape. What surprised me was the extent of the inaction- even many of the victims seem to be willing to tolerate it. One study cited by the reports found that 65.4 percent of victims failed to report the crime because they "Did not think it was serious enough to report!" How can that be the case?

     

    http://www.publicintegrity.org/investigations/campus_assault/assets/pdf/Justice_Department_Fisher_report.pdf

     

    (Page 26)

     

    The reports make clear that laws guaranteeing privacy are conflicting with the right of women to be free from rape. The result suggests that the right to privacy, as imposed by Roe v. Wade, is inconsistent with the goal of a rape-free society.

     

    The reports illustrate that the legal protocols for issuing, receiving, and verifying consent are not robust enough for campus disciplinary proceedings, much less the criminal justice system. We need rules that make clear to everyone involved in the criminal justice and campus disciplinary systems- from participants to jurors- whether consent was issued.

     

    Why is nobody questioning whether women should be living in close quarters with men and whether alcohol consumption should be so rampant on colleges? Would not women be safer if men had less accessibility to them- particularly when the judgment of the women is impaired?

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • prochoiceferret

    What surprised me was the extent of the inaction- even many of the victims seem to be willing to tolerate it. One study cited by the reports found that 65.4 percent of victims failed to report the crime because they "Did not think it was serious enough to report!" How can that be the case?

    "Well, hey, boys will be boys, right? I mean, it’s normal for their hormones to make them lose control every now and then. That’s what my BFF says, anyway. And she knows everything."

    The reports make clear that laws guaranteeing privacy are conflicting with the right of women to be free from rape. The result suggests that the right to privacy, as imposed by Roe v. Wade, is inconsistent with the goal of a rape-free society.

    Man, can you believe that? The Supreme Court, imposing the right to privacy upon us whether we want it or not? Next thing you know, they’ll be saying we can’t sign ourselves into slavery or something.

    The reports illustrate that the legal protocols for issuing, receiving, and verifying consent are not robust enough for campus disciplinary proceedings, much less the criminal justice system. We need rules that make clear to everyone involved in the criminal justice and campus disciplinary systems- from participants to jurors- whether consent was issued.

    "Exhibit A, your Honor, is a copy of the official GrayDuck Consent to Sexual Congress form, which was completed and signed by the plaintiff in triplicate. Please disregard the stains near the upper-right corner, which according to laboratory testing are a mixture of AstroGlide and pre-ejaculate from the defendant."

    Why is nobody questioning whether women should be living in close quarters with men and whether alcohol consumption should be so rampant on colleges?

    Because the problem isn’t that women are living in close quarters with men, or that alcohol consumption is a part of college life. The problem is that rapists are raping people. I think we should focus on that.

    Would not women be safer if men had less accessibility to them- particularly when the judgment of the women is impaired?

    Yes, women would be safer if they all stayed at home, and never went outside except in the company of a male relative. (Well, maybe not.) But as someone who has already shown a breathtaking lack of sensibility on reproductive health issues, it’s not surprising that you would think to address rape not by reaching out to those who would potentially commit it, but by restricting the lives of those who would be victimized by it.

     

    (I can just see GrayDuck’s anti-crime PSA campaign: "Don’t wanna get robbed? Don’t go outside! Danger—you can’t leave home without it!")

  • grayduck

    Emily Douglas on December 14, 2009 – 2:36pm: "does the CIP report make any recommendations about whether external,
    criminal legal proceedings or internal, disciplinary board proceedings best bring about justice for survivors?"

     

    No, it does not. The reports did not explain why they went to so much trouble to investigate post-secondary policies and procedures regarding rape while almost completely ignoring the criminal justice system.

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • crowepps

    When Golda Meir was Prime Minister of Israel, she was asked to place a curfew on women to end a series of rapes. However, she refused, saying, "But it is the men who are attacking the women.  If there is to be a curfew, let the men stay at home."

    http://virgil.azwestern.edu/~dag/lol/rapemyths.html

  • grayduck

    ProChoiceFerret on December 28, 2009 – 1:04am: "…the problem isn’t that women are living in close quarters with men, or that alcohol consumption is a part of college life. The problem is that rapists are raping people. I think we should focus on that."

     

    So do you oppose all other defensive strategies for stopping crime? For example, do you neglect to lock your doors? Do you oppose security checkpoints in airports? Do you leave valuables in plain view? Do you meet people from the internet in dark, secluded locations?

     

    I do not mean to imply that offensive approaches should not be pursued. However, they are expensive and imperfect and, therefore, should be reinforced with defensive strategies. Giving rapists access to drunk, sleeping college-age women and expecting that a college disciplinary process can deter all rapes does not seem prudent.

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • crowepps

    Since it is only a small portion of the male college population who takes advantage of that access to drunk, sleeping women, perhaps the college should use the defensive strategy of decreasing the pool of possible rapists by doing psychological assessments of male applicants and refusing to accept those who are too psychologically immature to understand the concept of controlling their own behavior or admitting them as special students kept segregated in a special high security dorm where they can do remedial ‘growing-up’ classwork.  Then the majority of the students, the women and the men who have internalized the concept of consent, can all safely get on with their education.

     

    The crime of rape should not be dealt with through "college disciplinary policies" but instead such accusations should be processed immediately by real cops preparing for real trials resulting in real prison terms.  Serious assaults and murders aren’t dealt with through "college disciplinary policies" and rape is no less serious.

  • grayduck

    ProChoiceFerret on December 28, 2009 – 1:04am: "Yes, women would be safer if they all stayed at home, and never went outside except in the company of a male relative."

     

    I am not proposing that women never leave home, I am suggesting that women not share their homes with drunken rapists and accept (potentially laced) drinks from those rapists.

     

    "But as someone who has already shown a breathtaking lack of sensibility on reproductive health issues, it’s not surprising that you would think to address rape not by reaching out to those who would potentially commit it, but by restricting the lives of those who would be victimized by it."

     

    Are you suggesting that using scientific research to guide public policy is not sensible? Why not?

     

    Your choice of words is striking. Why would we "reach out" to rapists rather than hunting them down and imprisoning them? Are you suggesting that rape is inconsequential or that rapists are good people at essence?

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • crowepps

    You must have missed the absolutely vital word "potential" in the sentence.  If we’re going to imprison all the POTENTIAL rapists, there wouldn’t be any men out walking around free at all.