To End the Campus Rape Epidemic, Let Go of Secrecy

Sarah Seltzer

Campus rape continues to be a widespread problem exacerbated by shame, secrecy, and victim-blaming. Efforts to curb rape on campus include mandatory education programs and student-led initiatives like Men Against Rape.

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

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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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

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
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
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

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”

News Abortion

Pennsylvania’s TRAP Law Could Be the Next to Go Down

Teddy Wilson

The Democrats' bill would repeal language from a measure that targets abortion clinics, forcing them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a bill that would repeal a state law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF). The bill comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a similar provision in Texas’ anti-choice omnibus law known as HB 2.

A similar so-called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law was passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 with bipartisan majorities in both the house and state senate, and was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

SB 1350, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) would repeal language from Act 122 that requires abortion clinics to meet ASF regulations. The text of the bill has not yet been posted on the state’s legislative website.

The bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), and Judy Schwank (D-Berks).

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Leach said in a statement that there has been a “nationwide attack on patients and their doctors,” but that the Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.

“Abortion is a legal, Constitutionally-protected right that should be available to all women,” Leach said. “Every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly swore an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States, so we must act swiftly to repeal this unconstitutional requirement.”

TRAP laws, which single out abortion clinics and providers and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to medical clinics, have been passed in several states in recent years.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down two of the provisions in HB 2 has already had ramifications on similar laws passed in other states with GOP-held legislatures.

The Supreme Court blocked similar anti-choice laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi, and Alabama’s attorney general announced he would drop an appeal to a legal challenge of a similar law.