On July 13, New York Times published “Reporting Rape and Wishing She Hadn’t,” a disturbing narrative of how Hobart and William Smith Colleges handled a rape allegation by a freshman. The victim, Anna, and witnesses described her being raped by members of the school’s popular football team while other students photographed these acts.
After accusing her assailants, Anna was harassed by other students and subjected to threats and obscenities on her dorm door. She did not receive justice: the college investigative panel ignored key evidence, misrepresented Anna’s and witnesses’ statements, and repeatedly interrupted Anna as she attempted to testify. The panel immediately cleared the accused, issuing a statement of their decision only a few hours after the last witness had testified. A local prosecutor also dismissed the case, despite DNA evidence, claiming that he had “nothing to work with” by the time he got the case.
Student-victims like Anna often report their assaults to their colleges, which cannot discriminate by sex if they receive federal funding, according to Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972. The Department of Education clarified in 2011 through a “Dear Colleague” letter that sexual harassment and violence interferes with the right to a non-discriminatory educational environment. Students’ option to report the crime to the police (rather than rely on the university to handle the case) does not negate the responsibility of universities to provide a safe learning environment. Anna’s story—and many others, like the settlement by University of Connecticut with five student sexual assault victims for $1.28 million—show that our institutions of higher learning need immediate, systemic reform.
As a result of hundreds of cases like Anna’s, students have mobilized, filing Title IX complaints that have resulted in federal investigations at 71 higher education institutions. The government and universities are addressing the issue also. A White House Task Force released recommendations and plans to evaluate effective prevention strategies in April. Senator Claire McCaskill’s office recently surveyed 440 institutions nationwide, finding that 40 percent of schools had not investigated any assaults (estimated as affecting one in five female students) in five years; one-fifth don’t train faculty and staff, and one-third do not train students. Dartmouth College, with its own problematic history, held a summit with representatives from 60 schools earlier this month.
Many universities are finally adopting practices that have significant potential to curb such violence:
Public Policy Committee
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