GET RAPE D
There are many assumptions about “the college experience,” some resulting in hard truths. For most students, college remains one of the most formative and fondest years of their lives. Moving away from home to discover one’s own identity, challenging studies, developing new ways of thinking, meeting life long friends, and ultimately coming out of it with a degree and a future full of opportunities. But a gruesome statistic reveals that this is not the case for everyone. 1 in 5 women will experience sexual assault or gender based harm during their time in college. With all the ingredients, college campuses are an obvious hotbed for sexual assault. Raging hormones, far from parental authority, and lots and lots of alcohol. But let us not forget the most important ingredient: young men who think it’s okay to rape other people. And above all, the college bureaucracy that fail to protect its students. The majority of the universities in the United States have been failing to protect victims of campus sexual assault and this calls for a deep evaluation of these miscarriages of justice.
To cross examine the list of the top universities in the country with a list of the universities that have the most reported sexual assault yields astonishing similarities. One would hope that these top universities, some of which appear on both lists, would have the proper infrastructure to mitigate these all too often occurring incidences. But even with the abundance of funding from various sources to maintain such infrastructure, the problems lies with the administration. Quite possibly, the administration is suffering a lag in social culture. For most of the administrators serving on college campuses today are ranging in age of 40s to 60s, and university presidents averaging age 61. That means that when these people were in college years, it would have been as early as the 1970’s and into the early 90’s. Why is this important? Because the definition of rape back in those times was all over the board. In 2016, we expect informed, explicit consent (which will be explained later), but 25 or 35 years ago what is now considered rape might have been casually regarded as an “oops” or “drunken mistake.” And sexual assault on a college campus was almost unheard of, because surely rape only happened in dark alley ways, perpetrated by strangers and to girls who were not careful and “asking for it.” But now, university administrators are likely finding it these facts about their campuses hard to digest and this has them going lengths to protect the gleaming reputation of their institution...for obvious reasons. They need students to continue to want to attend and donors to want to keep giving. The age gap in the administrators to their students also provides a large social gap. It’s 2016, the drugs are stronger, the alcohol is more accessible, and the definition of rape is entirely different.
Consent is the buzzword when it comes to the ongoing discussion of sexual assault. Affirmative, explicit consent, as defined in the “Yes means Yes” consent bill in California is:
“an affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious decision by each participant to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity. Consent is informed, freely given, and voluntary. It is the responsibility of the person initiating the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the consent of the other person to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual encounter and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.”
This definition puts great stipulations on the act of sex and also might assume, in an underlying way, that “[l]egislators and activists just don't trust adults to navigate issues of consent without them (Young).” But it’s also clear that the likely 30 to 45 min sexual assault prevention sessions administered at freshman orientation don’t stick. In the heat of the moment, in a presumed consensual and mutual intimate situation, explicit consent is not always practiced. Because affirmative consent isn’t sexy or romantic. But rape isn’t either. So when colleges across the country are in a sexual assault epidemic, this not-so-sexy law is rightfully enacted. While in many cases it isn’t practiced, it does leave more room for victims to have a stronger case against their assailant. A hotly debated cousin of consent is the question of consent while incapacitated. If a person is incapacitated to a point where they cannot make a rational decision to consent, nor could they resist if they were to object to sexual advances, that would be considered sexual assault. Due to the varying opinions on what consent really is, California’s “Yes means Yes” bill attempted to clear things up. But the bill has been widely criticized as “excessive” and "feminist dogma", even going so far as to ignite the creation of men’s rights activist groups. As Tara Culp-Ressler writes for Think Progress:
“The current societal script on sex assumes that passivity and silence — essentially, the “lack of a no” — means it’s okay to proceed. That’s on top of the fact that male sexuality has been socially defined as aggressive, something that can result in men feeling entitled to sex, while women have been taught that sex is something that simply happens to them rather than something they’re an active participant in. It’s not hard to imagine how couples end up in ambiguous situations where one partner is not exactly comfortable with going forward, but also not exactly comfortable saying no.”
Even though the bill carries some popular criticism, it does not discount the fact that it is important. Explicit consent is essentially good communication and communication likes, dislikes, wants, and boundaries is an important part of intimacy. Ultimately the main purpose of this bill is targeting situations when consent cannot be actively given. Creating these obvious and unambiguous standards makes it even more difficult for someone to get away with a non consensual situation.
There is a standard by which colleges and universities are to abide. Title IX is a federal civil right that was originally in place to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender in school programming and services, but it has taken on more responsibilities in the last few decades. Now, Title IX is required to be present on every campus and is the prosecuting body for concerns of sexual violence and gender based harm. Under Title IX, students are protected with various accommodations, like no contact orders, relocation assistance, and advocates. All this sounds great right? What stellar accommodations, universities seem to be making a valiant effort to protect its students. It looks good on paper but in practice, Title IX has failed students countless times. As comprehensive as these accommodations may be, it still must face the bureaucracy that is the college administration. Each university has handled Title IX settlements in their own way, and when the reputation of the campus, or the career of the star quarterback is at risk, Title IX can only do so much. Title IX programming is often times severely underfunded, meaning the resources for victims are scarce. Also, some universities don’t have any official Title IX advocates that specialize in sexual violence and gender based harm litigation, leaving victims with under qualified, unofficial university staff to assist them in investigative processes, which leaves room for biases and error. And because Title IX has no structured standard as to how cases are to be carried out, “the same universities that had been exposed for neglecting to seriously investigate claims of sexual violence were given massive leeway to decide how, going forward, they would investigate claims of sexual violence (Moskovitz).” This lack of standards allow universities to seek out every loophole in the process of an investigation, leaving victims out to dry and another botched case in the books.
University of Oregon: Three men, two being basketball players, had their discipline for the accused rape postponed because the university wanted them to play in the NCAA basketball tournament.
Baylor: An investigation by the university pursued no disciplinary action against a football player who was convicted of rape in court. The university was later exposed for having failed to investigate additional rape allegations of other athletes.
Florida State University: The university and local police worked viciously to cover up the rape allegations of star football player Jameis Winston, who later won the Heisman trophy. The university has since made a $950,000 settlement with the victim.
The sheer disconnect between what Title IX stands for and what the university will do to manipulate these situations is a huge problem. This not only makes the process that much more exhausting for the victim, but the universities usually never get away with the cover ups and end up in huge financial settlements and a PR nightmare. Moreover, the Dear Colleague Letter on sexual violence threatens universities with the fate of cutbacks on federal funding if they fail to investigate and prioritize sexual assault cases. But it’s been five years and some universities have yet to heed that warning. It would work so much better for all parties to have clear expectations for investigations and no sneaky loopholes to favor accused athletes. Title IX is a good starting point, but the accusers and the accused need the proper support of the university for justice to prevail.
While many victims must face the unreliable bureaucratic administration when pursuing an investigation, the worst part is the far too common backlash from the student body. College campuses are tight knit communities, everyone knows everyone and gossip spreads like wildfire. Not only does society in general have an aversion to believing victims of sexual assault, but when word gets out in the microcosm that is a university campus, it only magnifies the nastiness of victim blaming and rape culture. A university of Conneticuit woman reported a rape in 2010, but shortly after the investigation ended, her attacker was back on campus. Feeling extremely unsafe, she reported it to the campus police, who responded by saying, “women need to stop spreading their legs like peanut butter or rape is going to keep on happening ‘til the cows come home.” Another UConn student who protested the rape culture on campus and was a student activist in sexual assault prevention received threats and harassment for her actions. She receive rape and death threats like “I hope you get raped,” “bitch,” and other gruesome statements. Most notably, the controversial rape case of the accused FSU star quarterback (rapist) and victim Erica Kinsman, was a shameful display of how cruel humans can really be. When Kinsman pursued the charges she was warned by local police that “ [she] should think long and hard before proceeding against him because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable.” And after Kinsman appeared publicly in the CNN film “The Hunting Ground” she has “received death threats, hate emails, and internet bullying” even having to travel with a bodyguard. In just naming a few, these instances of attacks and bullying against victims of sexual assault are huge deterrents as to why many victims don’t report. Having the only authority designated to protect students, minimizes and denies assaults, coupled with the likely bullying from students on campus, pursuing charges can be very scary. Society can call a woman a “hoe” all day with no evidence, but when she comes forward with evidence of being raped, then nobody believes her.
There are many obvious reasons why college campuses are the hub of sexual assault. Alcohol, partying, grossly gendered activities like greek life and sports. And of course, significantly less authority than back at home. These students may think they are invincible until they find themselves in the midst of a sexual assault investigation. In the case of cisgendered heteronormative sexual encounters, the concept of hyper masculinity should be address. College students need to find their niche, make friends, and make it a point for college to be the best years of their life. Many times, these students will join sports, greek life, or other specific social groups as a way to fit in.
Many fraternities, for example, promote rape culture by objectifying their sorority counterparts and by throwing parties with copious amounts of alcohol for a likely underlying purpose. All these ingredients lead to a terrifying statistic: “Members of frats are three times as likely to commit rape than other men on college campuses.” A house full of 120 dudes that play with wooden paddles and drink beer upside down is sure to be a place with sexual frustration and raging misogyny. But maybe that’s just too presumptuous? Let’s see:
“In October of last year, Texas Tech that hung a banner at a party that read “No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal”—the same words that members of a Yale University frat chanted outside the campus women's center in 2008. During a “Take Back The Night” march in November 2014, members of a San Diego State frat harassed women by screaming obscenities, throwing eggs, and waving dildos at them. And back in October of 2013, the social chair of a fraternity at Georgia Tech sent members an email with the subject line “Luring Your Rapebait,” a brief document outlining how best to sexually assault women and get away with it (Theriults).”
So these are all perfect examples as to why the victim should never be blamed. There should be a greater focus on teaching young men not to rape as opposed to young women protecting themselves from it. A pamphlet and 20 minute video at orientation is not going to stick in the minds of hundreds of young men looking to dive into the world of sex and partying at college. Universities breed a party culture and rarely hold the most guilty of groups responsible, “colleges are hesitant to interfere with the rape culture that has infiltrated a small but destructive portion of the fraternity system because frat brothers are the college’s biggest source of giving (Torribio)”. And the overwhelming lack of accountability and disproportionate allocation of punishment is another overarching issue. When you can get expelled from school for copying someone else’s homework but not for raping another student… there is a big problem.
But we can’t always blame the universities for mishandling these issues, because some of them really do try to do the right thing. But the justice system fails the victim at the end of the day. In the spring of 2016, the case that flipped the status quo on it’s head was the Stanford rape case. Rapist (or as some media outlets will call him “all-star swimmer”) Brock Turner was convicted to only 6 months in jail, ultimately serving three. While the victim in the case has remained anonymous, her words were shared millions of times. The reasoning for Turner’s lenient sentence as described by the sentencing judge Aaron Persky was that “[jail] would have a severe impact on [his] life.” While this severely biased judge, who also played sports at an ivy league, failed the victim and all survivors who are still waiting for justice, Stanford University did the right thing. Turner was expelled from campus and banned from even entering the premises. After that, one would expect with the overwhelming amount of evidence against Turner - eye witnesses and a rape kit- , that the justice system would do the right thing. Sexual assault cases carry a stigma that makes it difficult to prosecute, especially when the defendant has “a lot to lose.” If it’s a criminal in a dark alley way that commits the assault, send him away, no questions asked. But if the accused has a championship football game coming up, the victim will likely be silenced, and drag out an investigation for much longer than necessary. So where can we find the appropriate justice? And how can we stop this epidemic?
It seems that no matter the case, the pursuit of justice for sexual assault survivors is a merciless one. Whether it be the campus they reside in, the police department and administrators on the case, or even the judge you’d hope would protect you, the victims of sexual assault just can't catch a break. What’s worse is that in a place where young people should thrive, learn, and grow, they are stunted by the harsh reality that is campus sexual assault and the incompetent bureaucracy that follows. The solution is multilateral and complex. As discussed, many factors are to blame on this crisis, and they should all be addressed. Title XI needs to have stringent and comprehensive standards for investigations, funding for this program should be abundant, and resources for victims readily available. As for stopping rape culture and the festering of it on campuses across the nation, that’s a bigger problem. But at the end of the day, we need to teach men not to rape. All students deserve the unobstructed education that they so rightfully earned and colleges need to protect that right by all means possible.