By Chelsea Feuchs
In the last few weeks, many stories have come to light regarding sexual assault on college campuses and inadequate administrative responses. Particularly shocking to many readers are the names of the prestigious universities accused of not supporting survivors and not complying with Title IX regulations.
Amherst College handled a case brought to them with enough insensitivity to cause a lawsuit, not to mention a national scandal. A recent article published by Women’s eNews brought attention to the exceedingly high amount of evidence and proof of guilt required at schools such as Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Virginia. When our most prestigious institutions cannot handle cases of sexual assault with competence and care, it rightfully sparks fear in prospective students, their parents, and women across the country that lose faith in their ability to seek out help and justice when wronged.
As a college student at an Ivy League school myself, I have observed the complete ineptitude of an administration too worried about its image and its funds to properly handle cases of sexual assault. First, information about students’ rights regarding rape is often difficult to find. One must sort through pages of information online to find her Title IX rights, let alone the number of a professional to call and confidentiality policies.
Psychological services are often under-funded and under-used and many health service centers do not perform rape kits. Survivors who come forward are encouraged to handle their cases in house, being told that pursuing a state court case is too much of a hassle if one intends to keep up her studies. Dealing with cases internally means that the harshest possible punishment for a convicted rapist is expulsion, and even this outcome is rare.
Prosecuting cases of sexual assault within a university setting leads to an entanglement and interests that almost always leaves a survivor underserved by the system. The administration discourages the survivor from pursuing her case because holding such a hearing is an admission that there may be rapists on campus; convicting a student confirms this truth. Lawsuits such as the one brought by William McCormick III against Brown University have scared colleges from convicting assailants for fear of legal repercussions. In an effort to protect their image and their endowment, universities are hesitant to mete out punishment and often overextend themselves in protecting the rights of the accused, in turn disenfranchising the complainant. The result of this messy process is a survivor of sexual assault left without adequate emotional, mental, and academic help, forced by institutional incompetence to question the legitimacy of her experience.
The system does not have to remain broken. There are schools across the country, often those with less prestigious names, that take this issue seriously and step up with proper professional support when confronted with cases of sexual assault. We need a culture that recognizes the existence of rape across educational, ethnic, and socio-economic lines. We need our colleges to begin with the correct assumption that sexual assault does occur on their campuses and from that foundation create programs which are comprehensive, honest, and progressive.
We must work to support survivors, prosecute cases in a swift and fair manner, and let colleges that will not comply with proper regulations know that we will not accept their denial and bureaucratic maneuvers any longer, no matter how prestigious their academic reputation may be. Ask Congress to pass an inclusive Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization bill that includes the Campus SaVE Act, a critical bill that would update the Clery Act and add stalking, dating violence and domestic violence to the list of crimes colleges and universities have to include in their annual report.