Join 3,432 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Sexual Assault on Campus
December 3, 2009 3:57 PM   Subscribe

A nine-month investigation by the Center for Public Integrity reveals that student victims of sexual assaults "face a depressing litany of barriers that often either assure their silence or leave them feeling victimized a second time."

Part I - "Sexual Assault on Campus Clouded in Secrecy" - While one in five collegiate women will be sexually assaulted, 95% will never report it. Those who do face off-the-record negotiations and secretive disciplinary processes. Half of victims report unsuccessful attempts to file criminal charges. School officials blame FERPA for their secrecy.

Part II - "Barriers Curb Reporting on Campus Sexual Assault" - Almost 60% of colleges provide no training to students on how to identify and report sexual assault. Though the Clery Act requires schools to have well-publicized disciplinary proceedures, sexual assault cases rarely make their way to adjudication.

Part III - "Campus Sexual Assault Statistics Don’t Add Up" - Under-reporting of sexual assault by campuses is frequent. The Clery Act provides several loopholes exempting campusus from counting rapes reported to counselors and allowing campuses to classify some sexual assaults as "non-forcible sexual offenses." 62% of colleges are out of compliance with the Clery Act's reporting requirements. In 49 out of 58 cases, local service programs and clinics reported higher sexual assault rates than the campuses they serve. Because schools compete with each other for low sexual assault numbers, universities which count sexual assaults accurately are indirectly penalized.
posted by l33tpolicywonk (31 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm sad to say that this goes in the "Water is wet and the Pope wears a big hat" category for me.
posted by misha at 4:07 PM on December 3, 2009


Typically, Lisak notes, administrators view campus sexual assault as “a very negative piece of publicity,” tarnishing institutional reputations, and heightening fears among tuition-paying parents and students for whom colleges are aggressively competing.

Which is exactly why you don't want to create an environment where you help people to get away with it by covering them up.
posted by RokkitNite at 4:19 PM on December 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I had the same thought as misha (except more along the lines of "No shit, Sherlock"). BUT I shouldn't be so cynical, and it's amazing (wrong word... saddening? incredibly frustrating?) to see this all laid out so clearly and plainly.
posted by muddgirl at 4:20 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's so depressing. Reading about these college administrators roadblocking reports of sexual assault sadly reminds me of all those laughable cliche bureaucrats in movies — like the Mayor in Jaws. "Nobody want so to go Rape U." Yeah. Maybe you guys should actually DO something instead of covering your asses. So pathetic.
posted by tkchrist at 4:23 PM on December 3, 2009


er. "Nobody want to go to Rape U"
posted by tkchrist at 4:24 PM on December 3, 2009


Not much has changed in the past 20 plus years.
posted by bearwife at 4:39 PM on December 3, 2009


Also, here's an interesting article from David Lisak, including his findings regarding acquaintance rapists in the university setting, from his 2002 research
posted by bearwife at 4:46 PM on December 3, 2009


My experience with this is only second-hand, but I'm not the least bit surprised.
posted by Jeanne at 4:50 PM on December 3, 2009


This is might be a stupid question, but why are the colleges involved at all? It seems to me cases of sexual assault should be left to courts and not university disciplinary hearings. Universities aren't set up to investigate crimes and probably aren't very good at it. They should provide education, counseling, and expulsion for anyone convicted, but it seems like prosecution should be left to the law, with universities providing whatever help to the police they can.

"Three hours into deliberations by the University of Virginia’s Sexual Assault Board, UVA junior [] sat with her mother in a closet-like room in sprawling Peabody Hall. Down the corridor, two professors and two students were deciding her fate. ....You can’t talk about the verdict to anyone....That’s the account she gave local authorities, who declined to prosecute. And that’s what, in May 2004, she told the UVA Sexual Assault Board, whose decision she’d considered “my last resort.”

This sounds unsatisfactory on every level. Judged by 2 students and two professors, where even if the victim gets justice it's secret justice? Shouldn't the blame be on the local authorities who wouldn't prosecute?
posted by pseudonick at 5:13 PM on December 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


I was in college in the early '90s at a small Pennsylvania university where pretty much the only thing in the town was the university. I dated an R.A. for awhile, and so was aware of multiple rapes, acquaintance and otherwise, and how they were handled.

In every case (even those occurring off-campus) campus police absolutely refused to involve real police, and if real police were called first, they passed the cases off the campus police. No real investigation was ever performed. Statistics were only listed as "reported assault" rather than rape or sexual assault, and I never heard of a case being actively prosecuted.

It always seemed like a recipe for a serious lawsuit against the school, but generally the victims either wanted to put the whole thing behind them, or they left school permanently. I only recall one case where the offender was disciplined -- kicked out of school with no criminal charges or record.
posted by coolguymichael at 5:19 PM on December 3, 2009


Equal opportunity for education WHAT?
posted by Ouisch at 5:47 PM on December 3, 2009


This is might be a stupid question, but why are the colleges involved at all?

Usually it's because the local cops don't want to get involved because acquaintance rapes are notoriously difficult to prosecute. The campuses are basically there as a court of last resort.
posted by Rangeboy at 5:58 PM on December 3, 2009


pseudonick: This is might be a stupid question, but why are the colleges involved at all?

According to the article, it's a legal requirement of the Clery Act that on-campus police handle on-campus sex assault crimes. This is presumably to ensure that the cases will be responded to, for the reason Rangeboy mentions. Unfortunately, campus authorities like deans are ill-prepared to respond when a student comes forward and may actually have a perverse incentive to keep that student from reporting the rape.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:23 PM on December 3, 2009


No wonder my local university has had to put in a night escort service for women on campus: it's a free zone for rape.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 7:23 PM on December 3, 2009


Hmm. I'm on my campus' judicial board, and I haven't seen or heard of a sexual assault case. As far as I know, we don't have anything like a "Sexual Assault Board" (and I have never previously heard of such a thing). I wonder what our campus' response to sexual assault is?
posted by PsychoTherapist at 7:44 PM on December 3, 2009


Interview with the study's lead author on Talk of the Nation.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:01 PM on December 3, 2009


The whole time I was in college I could never quite wrap my head around all those emergency call boxes that were liberally sprinkled everywhere on campus. Being a largish male I would happily stroll around any time of night in the darkest of corners completely oblivious to any danger, having never had any prior reason to care. And yet these call boxes were these constant reminders that it was a problem for somebody, but I never related. I was well aware of the campus escort services and the take back the night marches and all the advice given to students about how to handle one's self at night, but it just kind of went over my head. Maybe I even thought at times that all the commotion was overwrought by some violence-hypochondriacs or something.

But I'm older now and a little more aware of male privilege and how much goes on that isn't spoken of and I realize now how supremely dickish and/or naive the prior paragraph sounds, and MetaFilter has been partly responsible for that.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:33 PM on December 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, it would be extremely hard to prove rape when the people are acquaintances and there are no signs of violence and no previous accusations. In particular, there are significant numbers of false accusations, all fitting this description.

It's unclear if the acquaintance issue makes the school better suited to investigate rape cases. Real police might be more effective at finding evidence of violence. Campus police otoh should have better odds of catching repeat offenders. So maybe you'd get the best results from campus police who subcontract out the investigation of the crime scene to local cops?
posted by jeffburdges at 12:15 AM on December 4, 2009


"Three hours into deliberations by the University of Virginia’s Sexual Assault Board, UVA junior [] sat with her mother in a closet-like room in sprawling Peabody Hall. Down the corridor, two professors and two students were deciding her fate. ....You can’t talk about the verdict to anyone....That’s the account she gave local authorities, who declined to prosecute. And that’s what, in May 2004, she told the UVA Sexual Assault Board, whose decision she’d considered “my last resort.”

This sounds unsatisfactory on every level. Judged by 2 students and two professors, where even if the victim gets justice it's secret justice? Shouldn't the blame be on the local authorities who wouldn't prosecute?
Well, it would help if we knew why the authorities declined to prosecute, don't you think? Maybe what happened didn't measure up to what they considered a real crime.
Yes, it would be extremely hard to prove rape when the people are acquaintances and there are no signs of violence and no previous accusations. In particular, there are significant numbers of false accusations, all fitting this description.
How do we know? That seems to be the problem. If you simply take the all the accusations of rape that can't be proven, and count them as false, you would end up with a pretty high number. If you take all the accusations that can be proven false, you would probably have a low number. In between that, how do you count it?
posted by delmoi at 1:25 AM on December 4, 2009


A friend of mine was essentially acquaintance/date raped while we were students at a well-respected American university. She was living in the dorms over the summer at the time, and was drunk underage during the incident (assuredly not the first time she was drunk underage, and had been cited by the University for this in the past). When she brought it up to her RA, she was cited for underage drinking, and kicked out of the dorms, even after appeal to the Dean. She slept on our couch for the next month until the next semester started, thanks to the University's blind eye? rug-sweeping? decision that an(other) underage alcohol instance was a worse infraction than sexual assault?. Luckily she eventually cleaned herself up and recently finished up a master's degree at another well-respected American university.

As much as I love my school, I'm still ashamed of how they treated her.
posted by This Guy at 5:25 AM on December 4, 2009


I just want to clarify something real quick. Most state-run universities and large private universities have an on-campus police department. "Campus Cops" in these situations ARE real cops.

Smaller private colleges generally have "campus security" that are really just security guards and first responders. They are first on the scene and generally call the police department for anything more serious than skateboard theft and noise complaints.
posted by muddgirl at 5:58 AM on December 4, 2009


> Well, it would help if we knew why the authorities declined to prosecute, don't you think?
> Maybe what happened didn't measure up to what they considered a real crime.

That's pretty critical. In all this clearly-set-out site is there any clear account of what counts as sexual assault, what counts as attempted rape? (It may be right there easy to find. I have to leave for work right now but will look again when I can. In the meantime any links or pointers will be welcome.)
posted by jfuller at 6:09 AM on December 4, 2009


Conflict of interest is the first and most disabling problem here; universities and colleges are not capable of disinterestedly pursuing the facts, whatever they are. It needs to go back to the police, to prevent them from pushing off cases they don't want to work on to the campus system.

Because I can't believe that all of these cases had no usable evidence whatsoever, but I can believe that cases involving a lot of difficult police work and that might piss off a large local employer might be unappealing to the local constabulary. If they didn't have the school system to pass victims off to, then the pressure would be on them.

Like many school-based abuses (bullying, etc) the reasons we have dithered about addressing these problems include the fact that both perpetrators and victims tend to leave within 1-4 years, making it easy to just "wait for it to go away." Not right, of course, but easy.

Which seems to call for some sort of independent entity be available to collect this data and publish it. Even if some number of reported assaults were false accusations, having that many assaults reported publicly (and inevitably ending up on rankings of "campus safety") would make a school take some serious action in terms of assault prevention and response.

If it were impossible to hide reports of assualt, then shielding rapists stops being an attractive response. Especially repeat offenders who make the stats go up, because it does long term damage to the school's reputation.
posted by emjaybee at 8:25 AM on December 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


this post / thread is depressing
posted by nathancaswell at 8:33 AM on December 4, 2009


This happened to me. I attended a very small women's college for undergrad about ten years ago. I got quite drunk at a party one night, and a friend took advantage of my intoxication and sexually assaulted me. When I reported this and asked for a hearing, I was ostracized by many friends on campus, but I told myself that it would all be okay once I had my hearing.

In the course of preparing for the hearing, I was interviewed by one of the college's vice presidents. The day after that interview, the woman who assaulted me called me to discuss what the vice president had reported to her about that meeting.

I revoked my request for a hearing. Somehow, I graduated two years later. I still get sick thinking about it.
posted by epj at 4:51 PM on December 4, 2009


emjaybee: I can believe that cases involving a lot of difficult police work and that might piss off a large local employer might be unappealing to the local constabulary.

This is presumably the reason we elect local sheriffs, right? In a small college town (at least theoretically), college professors should make up a good percentage of the voters in that election. Why wouldn't they create political pressure to prosecute the rapes of their students?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:50 AM on December 5, 2009


Why wouldn't they create political pressure to prosecute the rapes of their students?

Honestly? Because a successful prosecution for rape could lead to a civil suit against the university over unsafe conditions that might result in a huge monetary verdict against the university. That would mean the professor might lose funding, facilities, or even their job.

Not to mention the bad publicity for the university. When I was involved in a Take Back the Night march in the 1980s at my university, I watched the administration go to a lot of trouble to quash coverage of the march and minimize the danger. I can't imagine that they wouldn't present a very solid case about how bad it would be for the police to prosecute campus rapes to the professors if they needed to.
posted by immlass at 11:23 AM on December 5, 2009


There are no "significant numbers of false rape reports". That is a myth which needs to die. Even a man is more likely to be raped, than to be falsely accused of rape.

If you want to read about the thousands of myths surrounding rape and their most excellent deconstructions, go here:

http://abyss2hope.blogspot.com/

And I think it's really terrible that campus police are allowed authority over rape cases. That's like giving the keys to the chicken coop to the fox. It's too controversial a subject, and they have a vested interest in making accusations go away.
posted by bravelittletoaster at 4:20 PM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


One more thing. IF getting excited about someone's life being ruined is truly the purpose of that meme, THEN a reasonable person would be downright hysterical over the much, much, larger number of people who have their lives ruined because their claims of rape were disbelieved.

Suppose the next excuse will be "oh I was just concerned about justice". Justice for who, exactly?
posted by bravelittletoaster at 4:36 PM on December 5, 2009


immlass: Honestly? Because a successful prosecution for rape could lead to a civil suit against the university

I'm asking why an elected sheriff wouldn't be under that pressure in the hypothetical scenario where local PDs were actually in charge of on-campus crime.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 5:27 PM on December 5, 2009


I misread you, l33tpolicywonk. I'm glad, too, because I couldn't figure out why anyone would ask that question.
posted by immlass at 10:28 PM on December 5, 2009


« Older Today, the State of Washington becomes the first s...  |  Secrecy Jurisdictions: Mapping... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments