This article about how colleges deal with campus sexual assault cases mischaracterized the policy at Bucknell University. The school does not use mediation to adjudicate such cases; rather, mediation is an option made available by Bucknell to victims of sexual assault in addition to a campus judicial proceeding. The article also said that, in reaction to a Center for Public Integrity report on colleges and their policies, Bucknell is considering abandoning mediation. It is not.
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To combat rape on campus, schools should stop keeping it quiet
The problem is, unlike in the sports arena, it requires nearly superhuman emotional fortitude on the part of a campus assault victim to file a Title IX case. "The seemingly insurmountable obstacle," reports Colby Bruno, managing attorney at the Victim Rights Law Center, which represents campus rape victims, "is that after the victim has been retraumatized by the campus process, that victim no longer wishes to go forward with a Title IX complaint because of the additional trauma it would cause." It's one thing to sue your school for a fair chance to play soccer; it's quite another to take it on over its inability to properly handle rape cases, while trying to heal from your own sexual assault.
And that's what colleges seem to be counting on. When it comes to sexual assault, they'll do anything to be able to claim that "it doesn't happen here" -- even if that means flouting reporting laws and creating the very environment of silence, rape apology and victim-blame that ensures that it will.
It doesn't have to be this way. University campuses could easily become labs that innovate effective ways to prevent and prosecute rape. But for that to happen, everyone -- parents, alumni, students, school officials, law enforcement -- needs to stop treating rape like it's an embarrassing cold sore and start tackling it like the public health crisis it is. Using the Justice Department's numbers, we can predict that during this school year, more than 400,000 young women will be sexually assaulted on a U.S. college campus. And according to McWhorter's research, more than 90 percent of those 400,000 rapes will be committed by repeat offenders who will rape, on average, six times during their academic careers.
That rate of recidivism is actually a golden opportunity, if only schools and courts would take it. It means that all we need to do is get serious about punishing the tiny percentage of men who are committing the vast majority of assaults, and many, many fewer women will have to live through the trauma of sexual violation.
The solutions aren't even that complicated. First, colleges can eliminate the "miscommunication" excuse that many rapists use by creating an on-campus standard that requires any party to a sexual interaction to make sure their partner is actively enthusiastic about what's happening -- not just not objecting. They can create judicial boards equipped to seriously investigate rape accusations, instead of throwing their hands up at the first sign that the accused's testimony contradicts the accuser's. They can defend the safety of the entire campus by permanently expelling those found guilty of sexual assault. And they can be transparent about every step of the process.
There is some small glimmer of hope that change is coming. Inspired by the Center for Public Integrity report, Bucknell University is considering abandoning mediation as a way of adjudicating sexual assault cases, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has a new policy requiring all sexual assault cases to be personally reviewed by the dean of students.
But while these are steps in the right direction, they are tiny ones. Stopping rape on campus is going to require a giant leap of faith. It may require a few extraordinarily strong survivors to file Title IX charges against their schools. It will require visionary campus administrators who care more about the safety of students than they do about their public image.
It will require parents, students and alumni to demand real, effective change. We will all need to recognize that, because the veil of silence must be pulled back for the real work to begin, the campuses we love may have to suddenly appear less safe if they're going to actually become safer.
Jaclyn Friedman is the editor of "Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape."