How Not to Handle a College Sexual Assault

oxy student protest

Occidental students at a march to change the campus sexual assault reporting policy.

Students at Southern California's Occidental College are filing a federal complaint against their school's response to a recent sexual assault.  The demands of the student group, Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition, are simple: Chief among 12 changes, they want all students to be informed when there is an assault reported on campus in the same way students are informed via all-campus email of other crimes, like alleged robbery. This issue came to a head in the past week, as students learned about a sexual assault on campus not from their campus crime alert system, but from local news reports. 

The school's president responded in an open letter that sexual assaults should be handled differently than other crimes because the police should be given time to figure out what happened in any alleged assault and because the campus's small community could gossip about the survivor and alleged attacker. "Where there is a serious and continuing danger, such as an unidentified assailant, or unknown threat that requires a temporarily increased level of security, we will alert the community right away just as we do for other crimes," reads President Jonathan Veitch's letter. 

"Let me be frank," responds Occidental sociology Professor Lisa Wade."Our college president freely admitted in writing that he treats people who report sexual assault differently than people who report other crimes.  He takes reports of non-sexual crimes at face value, but is biased against possible victims of sexual assault.  This is morally wrong and empirically unfounded." 

Professor Wade wrote about the issues with Occidental's sexual assault policy on the blog she helps run, Sociological Images. As she notes, Occidental is not less safe than other colleges. 

Colleges have a unique role in society, since they're students' homes while they're in school. They have a high standard to be a safe and supportive place and have the ability to provide centralized, wrap-around services to assault survivors in a way that is trickier in the outside world. But a recent study of University of Oregon students found that 46 percent of sexual assault survivors feels betrayed by some sort of institution—whether it's the courts, the police, or their school. 

Colleges like Oxy need to be a place where students who come forward to report crimes feel supported—not betrayed and in danger. 

Students who organized a march and petition in response to the president's letter also filed a complaint with the feds that the school's policy violates the Clery Act, which mandates schools inform students about certain crimes in a timely manner. Students argue that informing the campus only of "unknown assailant" assaults will help perpetuate the false idea that most assaults are committed by strangers.

Meanwhile, though the police have a suspect in the case, the person is not in custody. Protestors at the campus point out that having an alleged assailant wandering around campus is the kind of "serious and continuing danger" the president should be worried about.  

 

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90210

Interestingly enough, Beverly Hills 90210 used Occidental College as their fictional "California University" for the college years of the show.

In season 4, there is a particularly disturbing Take Back the Night episode set at Occidental, where Steve "accidentally" rapes someone, ignorant that her silence was not a 'yes'. He is portrayed as entirely innocent, and the victim as being confused about her own consent, and ultimately deserving of her fate for being too ambiguous. She ends up apologizing to Steve in front of the entire TBTN rally, saying in her speech "I didn't say yes, but I didn't say no either." Rape apologists: 1 Consent enthusiasts: 0

BH90210 actually has not only one but TWO episodes where the plotline revolves around a rape victim being mistaken/lying. The other is when Sue accuses Gil, but really it was her uncle(?) who assaulted her.

Oxy in the Right

Alleged perpetrators are just that -- alleged. They have not been proven of any wrong doing. To disclose the identity of this person or reveal details of the situation exposes a potentially innocent person of becoming a pariah in a closed environment such as a college campus.

Why? Let's face it. We don't, as a society, and especially in college communities, view sexual assault the view other crimes. It's not the same mentality as assault or theft. Charged is the same as guilty -- maybe not in jail time, but in people's minds. Look what happened to men at Duke, for instance.

We also have to face that rape and sexual assault are not like other crimes. Like it or not, there is a gray area surrounding rape. Rape is always rape. There is no "non legitimate rape." But sometimes rape gets reported when no rape actually occurred. Sometimes it's a he-said / she-said situation that needs to be investigated, or one muddled by drugs or alcohol. This is the exception, not the rule. But exceptions are exactly why we protect an accused individual's identity.

Oxy in the Right

Alleged perpetrators are just that -- alleged. They have not been proven of any wrong doing. To disclose the identity of this person or reveal details of the situation exposes a potentially innocent person of becoming a pariah in a closed environment such as a college campus.

Why? Let's face it. We don't, as a society, and especially in college communities, view sexual assault the view other crimes. It's not the same mentality as assault or theft. Charged is the same as guilty -- maybe not in jail time, but in people's minds. Look what happened to men at Duke, for instance.

We also have to face that rape and sexual assault are not like other crimes. Like it or not, there is a gray area surrounding rape. Rape is always rape. There is no "non legitimate rape." But sometimes rape gets reported when no rape actually occurred. Sometimes it's a he-said / she-said situation that needs to be investigated, or one muddled by drugs or alcohol. This is the exception, not the rule. But exceptions are exactly why we protect an accused individual's identity.

Why? Let's face it. We don't,

Why? Let's face it. We don't, as a society, and especially in college communities, view sexual assault the view other crimes. It's not the same mentality as assault or theft. Charged is the same as guilty -- maybe not in jail time, but in people's minds. Look what happened to men at Duke, for instance.

I don't know what planet you're living on where "charged is the same as guilty," but pretty much every single rape case that has been reported in the history of, oh I don't know, ever, has involved people collectively running to the rescue of the men accused and making a villain out of the victim. Look at what's happening right now in the Steubenville rape case. Even with a VIDEO of a sixteen year-old girl being gang raped by a group of guys and even despite the fact that they refer to themselves as the "rape crew," you still have an entire COMMUNITY turning their backs on the girl. They're going on camera and saying things, "I have no sympathy for whores." They care more about the poor, poor boys and their precious reputations than they do about the raped girl.

The mentality people have with rape goes like this:

-First, they ask if she's lying (because we all know that accusing men of rape and being put through a witch hunt is a favorite past-time of the devious, conniving, manipulative, and fickle female sex).
-If there's undeniable proof that the girl was raped, people then ask if she deserved it and if we should feel sorry for her. Was she dressed in a "slutty" way? Was she wearing makeup? Did she sleep with a lot of men before this (because if she did, this makes her less valuable and not worth caring about)? Does she have an annoying voice? Does she look like kind of a bitch? These are all super relevant details, you know.

Honestly, I don't even have the patience to go over everything. I'm still too baffled by the idea that anyone still thinks men accused of rape become "pariahs" anywhere, when the only people who ever get any harassment and hatred in these cases are the victims.

Watch the documentary The Invisible War and then talk about these so-called "pariahs."

Not a good idea

"Students argue that informing the campus only of 'unknown assailant' assaults will help perpetuate the false idea that most assaults are committed by strangers." Are they suggesting the accused assailant should be named? Before he/she is convicted of any crime? Because that sounds like a pretty lousy idea.

I think the idea is to alert

I think the idea is to alert students that an assult has happened on campus and that members of the community should exercise caution until the crime has been resolved. No need to name either the victim or the assailant. Just identify that the crime happened so the community can be safer.

I agree that the student body

I agree that the student body should be advised that an assault has occurred on campus and everyone should exercise caution until the crime has been resolved. I also agree that there is no need to name either the victim or the assailant. However, once the assailant has been convicted, his/her name should be provided.

Confusing the point

"First, they ask if she's lying (because we all know that accusing men of rape and being put through a witch hunt is a favorite past-time of the devious, conniving, manipulative, and fickle female sex)."

I disagree with you on this point because yes, this does happen. People do lie, or people don't take responsibility for their actions and claim it was rape (I'm not referring to "she was asking for it" notions). In many circles, accused people are guilty as charged, and yes, become complete pariahs. And if no assault occurred, you can do irreversible damage to the falsely accused. This is why our justice system allows for anonymity in such situations.

"If there's undeniable proof that the girl was raped, people then ask if she deserved it and if we should feel sorry for her. Was she dressed in a "slutty" way? Was she wearing makeup? Did she sleep with a lot of men before this (because if she did, this makes her less valuable and not worth caring about)? Does she have an annoying voice? Does she look like kind of a bitch? These are all super relevant details, you know."

I completely agree with you on this point. If it is determined that an assault has occurred , then there should never be victim blaming or boys will be boys excuses. Ever. And we should fight to make sure they don't.

In other words, you're confusing the point. This isn't about victim blaming. This is about investigating a situation so that no one comes to incorrect conclusions that would harm innocent people. Don't underestimate the trauma and ramifications of being falsely accused (let alone falsely convicted).

An investigation is a process to determine if there was wrong doing. To release the someone's name or details surrounding the case before wrong doing is established is immoral and contrary to the protections given to the accused in our justice system.

Confused but not okay with the status quo

I am torn in a lot of ways over this general problem in society. First, I am very strongly against victim blaming. I also think that the prevalence of rape on college campuses needs to be talked about more often. During my freshman year, after reading an article on this website, I confronted public safety officers about unreported cases of rape. I was told that this was no longer an issue on the campus. The next year, though, the day before Halloween, my RA gave all the girls on my floor rape hotlines and information from our health services department about rape prevention and follow-up, not because she had to, but because she had personally been friends with multiple girls who were assaulted on previous Halloweens. These cases had never been reported, or if they were, they were never carried through. More resources NEED to be used towards the purposed of bettering safety and counseling services offered (for instance, my college installed over 30 additional security cameras during my first year at school). I agree very strongly that prevention, which can take many forms, is key.

In another case, though, I ended up right in the middle of a case where a girl I barely knew came to me after she had been raped. The perpetrator happened to be a very socially awkward boy who I knew casually. He had a condition that prevented him from recognizing most social cues. Here's where it gets tricky, though. ( *Note that she talked about this issue very publicly and to a lot of people she didn't know, and was not concerned with keeping the incident private, which is the only reason why I am sharing this*) She told me that the guy had helped her carry her things back to her room, where they sat around talking for a while. When she laid down on the bed, and he kissed her, she (fully sober and not drugged in any way) let him, without saying no. She told me she kissed him back. Things escalated from there and went all the way, but at no point did she ever -- note that she explicitly told me this -- say no, or indicate that it wasn't okay. Afterwards, she contacted the school, all the RAs in the building, and told a lot of people about it. Despite the fact that all my friends knew the details of what happened, they still THREATENED me to cut off communication with him and defriend him on facebook, which I refused to do because I knew his circumstances, and I didn't personally feel like it was the right thing to do. He ended up getting in a lot of trouble with his peers, and with the college, while this was being investigated. When he was finally found innocent, he still dropped out of the school because of the ordeal. She's graduating.

You can see, then, why it's been very hard for me to come to a conclusion about this subject. I *definitely* think that notification should be sent about the occurrence of a reported sexual assault. Hiding this stuff is just dangerous for college kids who think they are safe, and don't realize how big the problem actually is. I definitely think that the school needs to respond accordingly, with penalties harsher than writing an essay and weeding a campus garden. I'm just not sure how I feel about names and details going around. Right now, I'm leaning towards the idea that they shouldn't go out, at least not until there is a definite conviction. Once there is a conviction, wouldn't his or her (the perpetrator) name go on a list of offenders, anyway? Or maybe the perpetrator's name should go out once the assault has been confirmed, but not the girl's, unless she opts to? Maybe you guys have some better ideas about this.

I just think that this is a very complicated issue, and there won't be an easy solution. That absolutely doesn't mean that we do nothing, however.