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