The Steubenville Rape Case is Closed, But What About Sexual Assault in College?

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Ladies, I’m sorry to have to inform you that the War on Women persists and you have been drafted into the fight whether you like it or not. The latest battleground to see action is the American college campus – a space that is supposed to foster our educational and personal growth, preparing us to be the leaders of tomorrow. Instead, colleges across the country are increasingly in the news for the sexual assaults occurring on their campuses. While campus sexual assault is nothing new, the complicity by college administrations in downplaying, mishandling, or covering up these crimes has fallen to a new level of shamefulness.

This issue came to my attention while I was checking up on news about my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). I learned that my beloved school was being accused of violating seven different laws stemming from its handling of student allegations of sexual assault. I started following the story of the young women who, in January 2013, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (on behalf of more than 60 victims) alleging that UNC violated their rights under Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, the Clery Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. According to a petition addressed to UNC’s Chancellor and Board of Trustees:

Over the past decade, hundreds of students have encountered hostility, victim blaming, and lack of certain administrators’ support when reporting sexual assault and harassment.  Survivors have been re-victimized by a system that strives for surface compliance, but that in practice, contributes to their trauma and the tolerance of sexual violence.

As an alum, an anti-violence against women activist, a woman, and a feminist, I was understandably hurt and angered by what was happening at UNC. But even more so, I’m enraged by what appears to be a trend in this country of universities failing to put proper procedures in place to prevent sexual assault in the first place, investigate claims of sexual assault, protect and support victims, and hold perpetrators accountable. And this is not just an UNC issue.

    • In 2011, University of Notre Dame student Lizzy Seeberg took her own life after being shamed and intimidated by ND football players for reporting a sexual assault at the hands of one of their teammates. According to the Washington Post, “At the time of her death, 10 days after reporting the attack to campus police, who have jurisdiction for even the most serious crimes on school property, investigators still had not interviewed the accused. It took them five more days after she died to get around to that, though they investigated Lizzy herself quite thoroughly, even debriefing a former roommate at another school with whom she’d clashed.”
    • In March 2011, a group of Yale University students filed a complaint with the Department of Education claiming that the university failed to eliminate sexual discrimination on campus – specifically acts intended to intimidate and silence women’s allegations of sexual assault. The incident that most clearly stands out was the parade of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity members across campus chanting “No means yes! Yes means anal!” in front of women’s dorms.
  • http://nakiahansen.com Nakia H.

    Even where the interests of those accused of sexual misconduct on college campuses are concerned, the argument that colleges are unfit to handle this type of crime on their own holds firm. Attorney Stephen Henrick writes, “universities lack both the impartiality and the institutional competence to judge claims of felony crime between their students. Indeed, that is why calls for reform have been necessary in the first place. Accused students and victims would both be better off in a world where only the courts handle sexual assault. ” (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2126340)