Tag Archives: college

Making a visual statement for change

Columbia University student will carry her mattress everywhere as long as her rapist remains on campus, via feministing:

Watch her video interview HERE.

Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz was raped in her dorm bed at the beginning of her junior year. Now, for her senior visual arts thesis, Sulkowicz is carrying her mattress with her everywhere she goes as long as she attends the same school as her rapist.

As she explains in the video about her project above, “The piece could potentially take a day, or it could go on until I graduate. For me, it’s an endurance performance arts piece.”

Sulkowicz’s rapist has been accused of sexual assault by two other women at Columbia but remains on campus. Sulkowicz has described in detail the terrible, incompetent hearing process she went through trying to get justice from Columbia, and was one of the students who filed a federal Title IX complaint accusing the school of mishandling sexual assault cases. Later, she reported her rape to the police — an experience which illustrated pretty much exactly why many survivors are reluctant to do so.

The mattress is an apt physical symbol of the weigh Sulkowicz has carried with her while sharing her campus with her rapist for a year. “A mattress is the perfect size for me to just be able to carry it enough that I can continue with my day, but also heavy enough that I have to continually struggle with it,” she explains. It also represents the way she’s been speaking out about her experience. “We keep [beds] in our bedroom, which is our intimate and private space… The past year or so of my life has been really marked by telling people what happened in that most intimate, private space and bringing it out into the light.”

Sexual assault happens outside of college, too

We have more than just a campus rape problem. There is invisible rape all over, via The Guardian

As the school year starts up again this month, so will university orientations with ramped-up trainings on sexual assault prevention – followed, I’m sure, by a semester of underreported attacks, inevitable administrative mishandlings and student-led lawsuits. Thanks to the increased American focus on campus rapes by activists, the media and even the White House, people will undoubtedly be paying attention this school year. And I’m glad for that.

But I hope that, as we shake our heads in shame and frustration over student assaults, we don’t forget the scourge of rape that has infiltrated every corner of our country – not just the places that house college campuses.

In Rochester, New York, a 21-year-old man is facing state and federal charges for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl and then posting a video of the attack to Facebook. The teeanger was unconcious while one man allegedly raped her and another filmed.

Connecticut man has been arraigned after authorities say he kidnapped, raped and strangled the 19-year-old woman he was dating. A 28-year-old teacher in Oklahoma has been charged with raping her 15-year-old student. A man in Kentucky has been indicted on charges that he raped a child under 12 years old.

The Waupaca County police in Wisconsin are looking for a man they say tried to rape a teenager who accepted a ride home, and a wrestling coach in Eden, New York pleaded guilty to raping two teen girls at the school where he worked.

Oh, and, for a bit of context: All of this has happened in the last 48 hours.

These are just the stories we know about – cases where victims have come forward and the local media is paying attention. But such cases represent just a small percentage of the attacks that happen every day –every two minutes, in fact – across the United States. These largely invisible sexual assaults – the ones we never hear about – are the ones where the most vulnerable are victims: homeless women, prisoners, the mentally ill, the disabled, children, sex workers and those addicted to drugs and alcohol. This is true not just in the US, but globally – where the most disadvantaged are not only the most likely to be attacked, but the least likely to be helped.

Do we care less about these victims? Where are their profiles? Where is their White House task force?

I do understand why the national conversation about rape is so focused on campus assaults. And it’s certainly not as if the campus rape problem is going away – college administrations are still failing survivors, and victim-blaming still abounds. But part of the reason the issue of student sexual assault has captured our attention – in addition to the tireless work by young activists – is that we see these victims as more deserving of sympathy, and because they more closely resemble the people in the media who are making editorial decisions, and their friends and family.

When vice president Joe Biden speaks about campus rape, for example, he often talks about protecting “our daughters”. But not everybody’s daughter goes to college – and our empathy too often doesn’t extend to those on the margins. Maybe that’s because we think of women in college as “good”, middle-class girls deserving of attention, thoughresearch has shown that it’s often lower-income women on campuses who get attacked and later blamed for their own attacks. Maybe it’s because we just don’t want to think too much about how some victims’ marginalization – in which we are all in some way complicit – contributed to them being victimized again: if you want to stop the rape of homeless women, for example, you need to talk about economic injustice. Maybe we think that, if we just take on college rape, we’ll only have to deal with administrations and (maybe) the attackers themselves. But that’s thinking too small – we have a whole world of misogyny to grapple with before we can end rape on campus or anywhere.

Yes, we have a campus rape problem. But we also have a national (and an international) rape problem. Let’s not forget that in the back-to-school rush.

A new attempt at preventing rape on campus

The Power Of The Peer Group In Preventing Campus Rape, via NPR:

Many forces can drive a male college student to commit sexual assault. But one of the most important may be the company he keeps.

A number of studies, on college campuses and elsewhere, have shown that having friends who support violence against women is a big risk factor for committing sexual assault. Now prevention efforts are exploring the idea that having male friends who object to violence against women can be a powerful antidote to rape on college campuses.

“One of the things that matters most to boys and emerging adult men is the opinion of other men,” says John Foubert, a researcher at Oklahoma State University who studies rape prevention among young men.

One of the most well-known studies on perpetrators of campus sexual assault is psychologistDavid Lisak’s 2002 “undetected rapists” study. Because few campus rapes are ever reported, much less prosecuted, Lisak looked for sex offenders hiding in plain sight at University of Massachusetts in Boston.

He surveyed about 1,800 men, asking them a wide range of questions about their sexual experiences. To learn about sexual assault, he asked things like, “Have you ever had sex with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used physical force?” When the results came back, he was stunned.

All told, 120 men in the sample, or about 6 percent of the total, had raped women they knew. Two-thirds of those men were serial rapists, who had done this, on average, six times. Many of the serial rapists began offending before college, back in high school.

Other studies at colleges and in the military have since found similar numbers — usually somewhere around 10 percent of men admitting to either an attempted rape or a rape, with a significant proportion of them reporting a history of repeated offenses.

“I was forced, really, to accept that these are college students, but there is this small percentage of college students who are sex offenders,” says Lisak. “They are behaving like sex offenders. They are sex offenders.”

Together, the 120 men in Lisak’s study were responsible for 439 rapes. None was ever reported.

But Lisak had no problem getting details about how the men carefully planned and executed their assaults. They’d often ask a girl to come to a party, saying it was invite-only, a big deal to a nervous freshman. Then they’d get her drunk to the point of incapacitation so they could have sex with her.

In an excerpt from one of Lisak’s interview transcripts, a college student using the pseudonym Frank talks about how his friends would help him prep for an assault:

“We always had some kind of punch, you know, like our own home brew. We’d make it with a real sweet juice, and just pour in all kinds of alcohol. It was really powerful stuff. The girls wouldn’t know what hit them.”

Alcohol was the weapon of choice for these men, who typically saw themselves as college guys hooking up. They didn’t think what they had done was a crime.

“Most of these men have an image or a myth about rape, that it’s some guy in a ski mask wielding a knife,” says Lisak. “They don’t wear ski masks, they don’t wield knives, so they don’t see themselves as rapists.”

In fact, they’d brag about what they had done afterwards to their friends. That implied endorsement from male friends — or at the very least, a lack of vocal objection — is a powerful force, perpetuating the idea that what these guys are doing is normal rather than criminal.

But in a group of guy friends, Oklahoma State’s Foubert says, the opinions that can end up influencing behavior are often just what a guy thinks his friends think.

“Let’s say you have a peer group of 10 guys,” says Foubert. “One or two are constantly talking about, ‘Oh, I bagged this b- – -h.’ Many of the men listening to that are uncomfortable, but they think that the other men support it through their silence.”

What if that silence could be broken before college — as early as high school?

At a few high schools in Sioux City, Iowa, students are starting to find out what that might look like.

MVP, or Mentors in Violence Prevention, matches upperclassmen with groups of incoming freshmen. Throughout the school year, the older kids facilitate discussions about relationships, drinking, sexual assault and rape.

Xavier Scarlett, a rising senior and captain of the football, basketball and track teams, says he tries to get inside the heads of the freshmen guys he mentors. They talk through various scenarios. What does it mean to hook up with a drunk girl when you’re sober? Would you be letting down your guy friends if you didn’t hook up in that situation?

And they spend a lot of time on that scenario Lisak heard about over and over in his U-Mass Boston study. You’re at a big party. You see a guy you know with an extremely drunk girl, and he’s trying to leave with her.

Scarlett says he talks through all the options with the freshmen in his group. “Do I let them just leave? Or do I grab him, or do I grab her? Or do I get some friends? If I say something, then will my friend judge me?”

These conversations are tough, often awkward, in high school. A lot of the mentors still haven’t confronted this kind of situation in real life by the time they graduate. But once they get to college, says Iowa State University junior Tucker Carrell, a former MVP mentor, the scenarios come to life.

Tucker says that he’s not afraid to confront his Delta Tau Delta fraternity brothers when they talk about women in a way that makes him uncomfortable. He’ll sit down with them, sometimes even bringing a woman they’ve hit on into the conversation.

The day we talked, Tucker said he’d used his MVP training to intervene in a situation just the night before.

This was at a going-away party at a bar in Ames, Iowa. Tucker noticed that a friend’s female cousin was pretty drunk. She was over by the jukebox with two guys who weren’t part of the party. They were strangers. Tucker says he was paying attention to her body language, and something didn’t look right. She looked almost cornered.

So Tucker grabbed a buddy, and they went over to the jukebox together.

“We were like, ‘Hey, let’s pick a song.’ So we picked a song. And then we were like, ‘Do you want to go to the table and see your cousin?’ “

They steered her back toward their group of friends.

And that was it. The night went on as if nothing had happened.

Lisak says by the time 18-year-olds leave for college, they need to be hearing this kind of challenge from their guy friends.

“This idea that getting somebody intoxicated, plastered, so that you can have sex with them is an idea we just simply are going to have to confront and erode,” he says. “Just like we have eroded the idea that it’s fine to get drunk and get in your car.”

There are only a few dozen high schools around the country that offer the MVP program. It’s been used in high schools around Sioux City, Iowa, for over a decade now. Surveys of participating students suggest their attitudes about sexual assault, and intervening in dangerous situations, shift after they go through the program, but researchers have yet to evaluate how effective it is in reducing incidents of sexual violence.

John Foubert, the psychologist in Oklahoma, says it’s important to remember that 90 percent of men have never committed a rape. The key is opening their eyes to what’s going on with the other 10 percent, so they can see it and intervene.

Campus sexual assault

Senators Offer Bill to Curb Campus Assault, via The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced legislation designed to curb the startling number of sexual assaults on college campuses. The measure would require schools to make public the result of anonymous surveys concerning assault on campuses, and impose significant financial burdens on universities that fail to comply with some of the law’s requirements.

The legislation comes as the White House is putting increased pressure on colleges and universities. The administration formed a task force in January to address the issue, and the group found that one in five female college students in the United States has been assaulted.

“Very rarely does a bill become a truly collaborative process, and this bill has been truly collaborative and bipartisan,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, who has spent the last several months studying the problem of sexual assault on campus.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education released the names of 55 colleges and universities that are under investigation for their handling of sexual assault complaints. It was the first time a comprehensive list of colleges under investigation for potential violations of federal antidiscrimination law under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was made public, further pressuring Congress to act.

The new measure would require every university in the United States to conduct anonymous surveys of students about their experience with sexual violence on campus, with the results published online. The survey, which had been pushed for by sexual assault victims, is similar to one conducted by the military, and would allow parents and high school students to make comparative choices.

The bill would also increase the financial risk for schools that do not comply with certain requirements of the bill, like conducting the surveys. Schools would face possible penalties of up to 1 percent of their operating budget; previously, universities that violated student rights in sexual assault cases risked the loss of federal funding, but the punishment was never been applied and lawmakers said it was impractical.

The bill increases penalties under the Clery Act — a federal law requiring all colleges and universities receiving federal financial aid to disclose information about campus crimes — to up to $150,000 per violation, from $35,000. Last year, the Department of Education fined Yale University $165,000 for failing to disclose four sexual offenses involving force that had occurred over several years, and other schools have also been fined.

The proposed legislation would also require colleges and universities to provide confidential advisers to help victims report their crime and receive services. Schools would be prohibited from punishing a student for things like underage drinking if they are reporting a sexual violence claim.

Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, co-founders of End Rape on Campus, a group that provides support for students who are filing sexual assault complaints, also attended the news conference.

At Occidental College, Ms. Clark said, students accused of rape are punished by being assigned book reports. “This is the state of colleges and universities in America,” she said “and we have the power to change that.”

Ms. Pino spoke of waking up one Sunday morning in a pool of blood with bruises from her attack. “I was told I just couldn’t handle college,” she said.

Some colleges expressed concerns about the legislation.

“Colleges are simply unable to play judge, jury and executioner when they’re already having trouble playing educator,” Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said in a written statement. “Resources are limited and colleges must put their focus on their primary objective: education.”

The bill attracted a diverse group of co-sponsors, including Ms. McCaskill, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, and Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, as well as other members of both parties.

The bill, “aims to codify much of what the Department of Education is already encouraging or requiring universities to do as part of their obligations under Title IX,” said Erin Buzuvis, a professor at the Western New England University School of Law and expert on Title IX. “However, it makes a big difference to have these requirements spelled out in a statute versus a policy interpretation issued by the agency, because a statute is more permanent.”

The provisions of this legislation that would create financial penalties for noncompliance “is a real game-changer,” Ms. Buzuvis added, “because it creates, for the first time, an incentive for universities to address campus sexual assault in a proactive manner.”

“Our students deserve better than this,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “The price of a college education should not include a 1-in-5 chance of being sexually assaulted.”

Sexual Assault on Maine college campuses

Does UMaine hold students accountable for sexual assaults on campus? via Bangor Daily News:

On Oct. 2, 2010, the University of Maine in Orono learned of potential sexual misconduct by a student on campus.

Through the school’s disciplinary process, the student was found responsible for violating the university’s stalking and relationship abuse policy, harassment, substantial disruption of activities, violating the alcohol policy, possession of alcohol by a minor, causing imminent physical harm, engaging in conduct that endangers others and significant interference with the normal residential life of others.

We don’t know what exactly the student did because the university enforces its conduct code in an administrative manner, not in a public court of law. The name of the offending student, which the university refers to as the “respondent,” is confidential.

But we know the university handed down the following sanctions: probation, residence hall relocation, a meeting with a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, a meeting with a dean and what was recorded as “other sanction,” which typically involves education-related discipline such as community service or writing a reflection paper.

In the last five years, there have been 62 reported cases involving sexual violence, harassment, stalking, hazing, intimidation or physical assault among students at the University of Maine. Of those cases, 47 students were found responsible for violations through the school’s hearing process, according to university records. In several cases, victims dropped the complaint; in other cases, respondents were found “not responsible” but still faced sanctions, such as no-contact orders.

In that time, one student was expelled and eight were suspended. The majority of punishments for the range of policy violations included probation, required meetings with school officials, no-contact orders and the completion of community or education-related projects.

Did those sanctions improve students’ safety? How should universities and colleges punish students who violate administrative policies but haven’t always been convicted in court?

“I think most universities have their own [guidelines for sanctions], and it really is dependent on the culture of that institution,” said David Fiacco, the director of UMaine’s Office of Community Standards, Rights and Responsibilities. “Ours fall in line with what are the generally accepted practices,” which are guided by the Association for Student Conduct Administration and the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education.

For S. Daniel Carter, director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative at the VTV Family Outreach Foundation in Virginia, the question is whether disciplinary proceedings at colleges contribute to a culture that rejects sexual violence. The problem is that colleges and students have little solid information about what works.

“More research on how colleges and universities handle sexual violence is essential, with the conduct process being a very important part of that. There is a significant dearth of information available,” Carter said. “I frequently get asked questions to which there is no answer because the data does not exist, because it has not been studied, because there have been barriers to gathering the information, because it has not been funded.”

Universities and college campuses are bound by law to investigate cases of sexual violence and harassment and punish those found to have violated the school’s policies. It’s a separate process from the criminal justice system — purposefully crafted to allow administrators to act quickly to protect students.Campus discipline

Universities have been investigating incidents and disciplining students for centuries. It’s similar to how employers act when their employees commit minor infractions or full-fledged crimes. A company is unlikely to wait months or years for a conviction in court to fire an employee charged with embezzlement, for instance.

“As an institution of higher learning or an employer or any other agency, you would want to hold your employees or your students or your association members accountable to a certain standard of conduct,” Fiacco said.

Colleges are required by the federal law Title IX to act immediately — and independent of police — to investigate incidents and protect students. They can take action, such as removing a student from a residence hall, before the disciplinary hearing process takes place.

“If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects,” the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights told schools in a 2011 letter.

When the University of Maine learns of a possible code violation, officials investigate to see whether the complaint has merit. A hearing may then be held in which a hearing officer or a committee decides, by a “preponderance of the evidence,” whether the student conduct code has been violated and, if so, what the punishment will be. Both sides have the right to appeal.

It’s up to the victim, not the school, to report a sexual assault to police, though the school informs the student of available support services and criminal justice options.

Some argue colleges have swung too far in the direction toward punishing students without hard proof, while others say colleges still have a long way to go to hold students accountable.

The truth is, it’s hard to know, given the limited public information and research on the subject, whether specific sanctions are effective — by reducing re-offenses, making students feel safer, teaching offending students important lessons and contributing to a campus culture that encourages students to come forward and have faith in the disciplinary process.

“What I think we sometimes see in responses to sexual violence, within an institution, is a natural instinct to protect the institution — be that in the situation of a church or a long-term care facility or a college or university,” said Elizabeth Ward Saxl, the executive director of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

It’s important for schools to ensure student victims have access to advocates to help them navigate the complaint process, make sure no one discourages students from going to police and make certain all people determining the outcome of sexual violence cases on campus have a significant amount of training on the dynamics of sexual assault, she said.

At the University of Maine, the most common sanction handed down to students found responsible for a range of infractions that include stalking, harassment, sexual abuse, or physical intimidation or assault, between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2014, was probation, with a total of 38 instances. Each case resulted in students being found responsible for a number of infractions, and it’s not possible to break out the type of sanction handed down for each individual violation, as would be possible in a court finding. Sanctions are crafted based on the circumstances of each individual case.

Probation effectively puts the student and college on notice. If the student were to repeat the offense, he or she would likely receive a more severe punishment. For the purposes of this piece, “probation” encompasses disciplinary probation, deferred disciplinary suspension, deferred housing suspension and official warnings.

The second most common sanction during that time period was “loss of contact.” In a total of 22 instances, people found responsible for violating the campus code were prohibited from contacting the complainant or others involved.

The third most common sanction came in the form of educational or “alternative” punishments, in 21 instances. Sometimes the university refers to them as “other sanctions,” which could involve doing research projects, writing reflection papers, completing community service or participating in the outdoors adventure program, Maine Bound. The university also often recommends counseling or requires an assessment with a credential professional.

Fiacco, with UMaine, said his first priority is ensuring the safety and welfare of students. But sometimes students can benefit from more educational activities, to “redirect the students’ energies” and introduce them to different social networks. Instead of going out to drink, students might go rock climbing, he said, to “force them out of their comfort zone, to meet with other students doing other activities.”

In a case reported to the university in September 2013, a student was found responsible for possession of alcohol by a minor, violating the residence hall contract and discriminatory harassment, which is harassment or discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age or disability. The student was found not responsible for sexual harassment. The punishments were deferred disciplinary suspension, which is a type of probation, 10 hours of community service and participation in the Maine Bound program.

Laura Dunn is a survivor of campus sexual assault and serves as the executive director and founder of SurvJustice, a national advocacy organization. Dunn said schools should be careful not to reinforce unhealthy misconceptions — such as the idea that counseling or writing reflective essays will help rehabilitate offenders — and no one should consider an outdoor adventure program a punishment.

Writing an essay or being told to participate in what could be a fun activity are not appropriate punishments, especially when students are found responsible for acts that could qualify as crimes in a legal setting. Why? “You haven’t addressed the hostile environment at all,” she said.

“No student should be able to ‘learn’ from violating another student’s body,” she said. “You don’t deserve to be on campus with that survivor.”

“The colleges that do it right are expelling or suspending.”

The broader question

Carter, with the VTV Family Outreach Foundation, said the broader question is whether sanctions at universities contribute to students’ feeling of safety and faith in the campus judicial process. There are many barriers to reporting sexual assault: fear of retribution, fear anonymity will not be preserved, and social pressures, among others. The conduct hearing process is often another.

“Lack of effective justice can be a major barrier to victims and survivors pursuing an investigation if they know through what they’ve heard in the community that people found responsible for committing a sexual assault, for example, receive a deferred suspension, not an actual suspension or expulsion. They may elect not to pursue based on that because they may feel that a no-contact directive is not sufficient,” he said.

According to UMaine’s records, most students reporting sexual assault, sexual harassment and stalking in the spring and fall of 2013 did not pursue investigations, whether through the conduct hearing process or police. Of the 33 students who reported sexual assaults in that time, 23 did not pursue an investigation. Of the 32 students who reported sexual harassment, 21 did not pursue an investigation. And of the four stalking reports, three did not pursue an investigation.

When student complainants did come forward, about 44 percent of stalking, sexual violence, harassment, sexual harassment, hazing, and physical assault or threatening allegations resulted in the offending student being found responsible.

Several complainants did not want to provide the university with the name of the potential offender; several could have filed a police report without the university’s knowledge. But the numbers are consistent with what experts know about people who experience sexual violence or harassment: It’s hard to talk about, and the formal disciplinary or criminal process can be daunting.

And while it’s probably good that more students are coming forward at UMaine –mirroring a nationwide trend — there is less information about whether victims there, and at campuses across the country, are getting justice from the process.

The National Institute of Justice reviewed the sanctions handed down at colleges and universities across the country in 2005, but “a large gap remains in the research as to the effectiveness of such sanctions at preventing sexual assault victimization and perpetration among college students,” said Bonnie Fisher, a professor at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Criminal Justice and author of campus sex crimes studies. “Knowing about the effectiveness of these sanctions is a next logical step in preventing sexual assault among college students.”

To reach a sexual assault advocate, call the Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Line at 800-871-7741, TTY 888-458-5599. This free and confidential 24-hour service is accessible from anywhere in Maine. Calls are automatically routed to the closest sexual violence service provider.

Title IX

“Red tape won’t cover up rape”: The silent protests that are sweeping college campuses, via Think Progress

The academic year has wound to a close, but student activists aren’t slowing down. In order to keep attention on sexual assault policy reform — an issue that has recently captured national headlines and inspired White House action — graduating seniors at elite universities are using red tape to make a big statement.

Red tape isn’t a new symbol for sexual assault reform. But it’s made a comeback at several colleges this commencement season, where students are placing it on their mortarboards as a symbol of solidarity with rape survivors whose cases may have been mishandled by their administrators. Some students used the tape to spell out “IX” as a nod to the federal gender equity law Title IX, which requires colleges to maintain a safe environment for students by addressing sexual assault.

The visual tool first originated at Columbia University in 1999 and 2000, when the students there were attempting to pressure their administrators to update the school’s inadequate rape policy.

“Throughout that school year, hundreds of Columbia students started wearing red tape on their wrists, their backpacks, and any other items they’d carry with them frequently,” Tracey Vitchers, the communications coordinator for Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER), a group that was first formed at Columbia, explained in an interview with ThinkProgress. “It was supposed to symbolize the bureaucracy of the old policy, to symbolize administrators really shutting students’ voices out of the reform process, and really call attention to the issue at hand — the college is putting all this red tape in front of students.”

Back then, “red tape won’t cover up rape” became somewhat of a rallying cry for student activists staging protests on campus.

This year, tensions over campus sexual assault came to a head once again. A group of 23 Columbia students filed a federal complaint against their school, accusing administrators of failing to address victims’ needs and doling out lenient punishments to rapists. Frustrated with administrators who didn’t appear to be doing enough to keep students safe, some activists started writing the names of accused rapists on bathroom stalls. An anti-rape group tried to protest at an event for prospective students and was quickly shut down.

According to Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, a junior at Columbia and one of the students who participated in filing the federal complaint this spring, current activists wanted to figure out how to keep putting meaningful pressure on the university officials. So they went back and looked at the way that sexual assault reforms had played out in previous years — and decided to bring back the red tape.

“We wanted to really claim that visual symbol and capture the contrast between our goal, which is the safety and well being of the whole student body, and the administration’s approach, which is more red tape,” Ridolfi-Starr told ThinkProgress. “Even now, they’re forming committees to review the committees, and they’re writing proposals on how to reform the committee to reform the committee, and nothing is changing for students. You haven’t fixed anything. It’s frustrating.”

Students started using red tape to hang up fliers with demands for administrators. They put up big red X’s in prominent places on campus. They taped over the mouth of the statue in front of the library. And then they put out a call for students to wear the tape on their graduation caps.

“By placing a piece of red tape on your cap (ideally parallel to the right side), you will demonstrate and signal to the University that you do not accept your degree lightly, that you understand the culture that they have been complicit in perpetuating, and that you will not stand for it, and that you demand justice and support for all survivors, even as a graduate of this institution,” student activists, who formed a direct action group called No Red Tape,wrote in an open letter to the campus last month.

Soon, activists at Brown, Harvard, and Dartmouth reached out to coordinate a media strategy for staging their own red tape protests. Hundreds of graduating seniors participated. Stanford University, which held its commencement this past Sunday, was the latest elite institution where seniors donned red tape. According to Miranda Mammen, one of the students who participated in the protest at Stanford, about 100 people put red tape on their caps and there was “a lot of student support even among those who didn’t wear red tape themselves.”

“People were really excited about it, and it was very cool to see that replicated at other campuses,” Ridolfi-Starr said. “I’m confident that red tape will continue to be a symbol.”

“We’re really excited to see that students are taking the steps at their graduation to have a silent protest,” Vitchers said, pointing out that the recent activism surrounding commencement ceremonies could signal some positive momentum for the sexual assault reform movement as a whole. “I think we’ll start to see some of these students who are graduating starting to engage more as alumni in this process, which we’re looking forward to seeing. Alumni can be really powerful in helping to support student advocacy on campus.”

“Even as graduates of this institution, everyone has a responsibility to continue to fight for a safe Columbia,” Ridolfi-Starr agreed. “Graduation is an important day for people, and I think some felt like this day is sacred and should be free from protest. But I actually think that it becomes even more important on special days, and on ceremonious days, to continue to fight for what we know to be right. It’s important that we do it even when it’s hard.”

Challenging rape culture on college campuses

White House Report on Sexual Assault: we need to dig deeper, via NSVRC:

Last week, I was happy to see the release of the new report from the White House Council on Women and Girls, Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action.  I, like many, was excited to find out what this “renewed call to action” was all about.  As I flipped through the report, I was struck by the number of accomplishments that have been achieved over the past several years when it comes to responding to sexual violence.  Improving the criminal justice, legal, medical, and institutional response to sexual violence is vital in our efforts to address sexual violence.  These efforts play a key role in the comprehensive approach to preventing, and ultimately eliminating, sexual violence.

But when it comes to primary prevention, I felt that the report fell short.   There is mention of culture change, which I appreciate.  But that seems to be the buzz phrase of the hour right now.   A huge (and I would argue a most important) piece of the prevention puzzle is still missing.  What I want is a deeper discussion of the culture we are trying to change.  Most of the prevention efforts in the report focus on the bystander engagement approach and involving men in social norms change efforts.  We ask these bystanders to get involved, men to get involved, and also some organizations to change.  But culture change is bigger than that.

I’m a fan of many bystander engagement programs.  But many of these programs put most of the focus on changing individual behavior.  I would love to see more programs, especially on campuses, that focus on a broader approach to helping systems and organizations in challenging rape culture.  I was so excited this morning to listen to two amazing women talk about what they are doing to address power-based violence and rape culture on their campuses.   Check out this PreventConnect podcast with Vickie Sides from the University of Chicago and Rachel Caidor from the University of Illinois at Chicago as they talk about the need to dig deeper and challenge rape culture as part of our sexual violence prevention efforts.   I hope it is as inspiring to you as it was to me.

I’ve been doing this work for 16 years now.  I remember a time when we were barely scratching the surface when it came to prevention work.  Many of the current prevention programs are starting to dig beyond that surface.  But we need to dig deeper if we want to get to the root of the issue.

What are your thoughts on the White House report?  What are your ideas for “digging deeper”?

Presidential memorandum for college sexual assault

Obama Targets College Sexual Assault Epidemic, via ABC News:

President Barack Obama is launching an initiative to combat sexual assault, particularly on college campuses, turning the spotlight on a problem that has devastated millions of Americans yet rarely receives such White House attention.

Obama planned to sign a presidential memorandum Wednesday [1/22/14] creating a task force to protect students from sexual assault, with a new White House report declaring that no one in America is more at risk of being raped or assaulted than college women. The report, “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action,” says that 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted at college but that only 12 percent of student victims report the assault.

The report was compiled by the White House Council on Women and Girls and was being released Wednesday, but the White House provided an advance copy to The Associated Press. It says nearly 22 million American women and 1.6 million men have been raped in their lifetimes, with victims more likely to suffer from depression, substance abuse and a wide range of physical ailments, including chronic pain and diabetes.

The report says rape’s prevalence is highest at college, fueled by drinking and drug use that can incapacitate victims. Obama is giving the task force of administration officials 90 days to come up with recommendations for colleges to prevent and respond to sexual assault, increase public awareness of each school’s track record and enhance coordination among federal agencies to hold schools accountable if they don’t confront the problem.

Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, chair of the Council on Women and Girls, said men must be involved to combat the problem and the president wants to lead a cultural shift of men speaking out. “The president is committed to solving this problem, not just as president of the United States, but as a father of two girls” who will soon be heading to college, Jarrett said in an interview.

The report also declares that the criminal justice response to sexual assault is too often inadequate and lays out a goal of increasing arrest, prosecution and conviction rates without any specific targets. The report blames police bias and a lack of training to investigate and prosecute sex crimes for low arrest rates and says the federal government should promote training and help police increase testing of DNA evidence collected from victims.

The report mentions the wave of sexual assault in the military — Obama last month gave the Pentagon a year to better prevent and respond to the crime within its ranks or face further reforms. White House officials say they want to set the example by turning around the sexual assault epidemic in the military.

Obama is bringing Attorney General Eric Holder, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Education Secretary Arnie Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius to the Oval Office on Wednesday to press them to work on the problem. Then he plans to join an ongoing meeting of his Council on Women and Girls attended by more Cabinet members in the East Room, where he is to sign the memorandum creating the task force. Vice President Joe Biden, who authored the Violence Against Women Act and has led other efforts to reduce sexual assault, also plans to attend.

Sexual assault on campus

The Five Big Lies About Campus Rape via The Chronicle:

I was reading Frank Bruni’s New York Times column, “Tackling the Roots of Rape” this morning and had two thoughts. One is that it is progress for a man to be interviewing a man about how to prevent sexual assault. Too much anti-rape activism is focused on lecturing women on how to protect themselves and too little on the largest potential pool of rapists and their destructive ideas about sex. Furthermore, men talking to men about rape, and cutting through the myths about sexuality and masculinity than enable sexual violence, is an effective strategy.

My second thought was how glad I am that I no longer teach at a residential campus. For years one student after another (mostly female, although two men reported having been raped by other men during my time there) told me awful, searing stories about the sexual violence on campus. The initial trauma was not infrequently compounded by the actions (or lack thereof) of those who were on the various disciplinary boards that dealt what would, in another context, be clearly understood as potential felonies. Part of what was heartbreaking about these conversations was that, not infrequently, the person (usually a woman) who had been raped had been persuaded to go along with a procedure in which the offender suffered no real punishment. She was also told that the entire proceeding was confidential, and she could talk to no one about what had happened. It was never clear to me what the consequences to a student breaking her or his silence would have been, but students usually believed that they would be expelled while the perpetrator continued to walk the campus.

At Zenith, sexual assault prevention was part of frosh orientation, and was organized around failures of communication and consent. I always wondered whether these inane workshops came back into students’ minds, in that hazy state of mind that can take over while a person is being brutally raped. Where was the moment that the conversation about consent was supposed to happen? Where the person who is raping me was supposed to care about my feelings and hear me say no? Should it have happened before or after she accepted a ride home with the person who stopped on a dark, deserted highway and explained she was getting out right nowunless some serious fellatio occurred. Was this the moment she was supposed to say brightly:

“No means no!”

The audience for this publication is largely academic, so most of you know what I’m talking about. But as the time for packing your kid up for college grows near, here are  The Five Big Lies you might want to talk to your kid about:

Lie #1: Most rapes are the result of a lack of communication. Most rapes are the result of one person wanting to exert power over another and getting a heightened sexual charge out of it. As David Lisak and Paul Miller’s research has showed, the vast majority of rapes within closed communities like college campuses are serial rapists. The person raping you has probably done it before, and if you are a new face on campus, you were probably pre-selected at the party by the rapist in consultation with his psychopath friends. The friends may not be rapists themselves, but they have been reassuring the big guy all night that “she’s really into you,” and they may assist in isolating the chosen victim from her friends. Even if the assault ultimately makes them uncomfortable, they are unlikely to intervene.

Lie #2: If you are sexually assaulted, the college/university will help you.  This is almost universally untrue, as the recent spate of lawsuits demonstrates. Unfortunately, most students who make it through to college believe that schools operate in their best interests because — well, they always have. Students who, following a rape investigation, feel that they have been harmed by school administrators, or treated unfairly by them, can tell their story to the Marines (literally.) Repeat: if raped, the college is not your friend, and every administrator you meet is tasked with protecting the college from a lawsuit. Their procedures are intended to sweep what happened under the rug make this bad thing go away, contain the damage, and eliminate as much evidence as possible that might be used to prove them liable.  They also know perfectly well that their crappy procedures run the risk of doing great harm to the reputations of young men who have been accused of rape, so they trend towards rituals of reconciliation, remorse and if necessary, removal.

If I had a child going to college, I would underline these points:

  • if you have been raped, do not shower or change your clothes. Go to the hospital and have a rape kit done;
  • do not try to protect your parents from what happened: yes, they will be hurt and angry with th school, but they will want to take care of you;
  • if your roommate has been raped, do not listen to all the victim crap about how it will be worse for him or her to go to the police. Do everything you can to get her to report this crime to the proper authorities. Part of the point of rape is to shame you into submission. Do not collaborate.
  • If you think you have been raped, you have been.
  • Know that any and all college procedures are crafted with the knowledge that the longer a rape report is delayed, the more likely it is that the student’s only option will be a university coverup campus disciplinary hearing.

Lie #3: If I try to intervene in a sexual assault, people will think I’m a fag/a man-hater/not fun/uptight. What if turns out to be regret sex/a hook-up gone wrong? Part of what is so searing about Ariel Levy’s recent story about the Steubenville rape trial in the New Yorker is how familiar it is. Young men and women watched something ghastly taking place in front of them, and instead of feeling empathy for the victim, they turned it into a party game. Have your kid read that story, and then have your kid read a book by Peggy Sanday, Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood and Privilege on Campus (1990). The book is about a group of frat brothers whopulled a train on a woman at a party, in full view of a group of young men and women, who decided that she deserved to be raped because she was inebriated, out of control and coming on to guys.  These, with Bernard Lefkowitz’s Our Guys (1998), argue that the most moral kid in the room usually thinks the only ethical decision is to leave, not help the victim, protest, or call the cops. Clearly these scenarios far pre-date hook-up culture.

Make these points to your kid:

  • if sex looks non-consensual, it probably is. Don’t take a chance.
  • People who are drunk or stoned cannot consent to sex: in some states, that’s the law.
  • if you see someone at the party who is too inebriated to make good decisions, get them out of there.
  • if you and your friends are throwing the party, one or more of you is responsible for remaining sober and patrolling the house to pre-empt violence and coerced sex.
  • unless it is a sex party, with explicit rules and enforced sobriety, nobody should be having public sex at your party. It’s rude and fucked up.

Lie #4: People who have been raped are victims who should not be forced to take any action they do not wish to take. This includes reporting the rape. There are two problems here. One is that calling someone a “victim” increases that person’s subordination unless you add the prepositional phrase: “of a crime.” But secondly, a person who has been raped needs to understand that, like the bystander who walks away, to do nothing is to take an action that has consequences, both for herself and for others. The original trauma will probably be compounded by anger, powerlessness and what is now being recognized as a form of PTSD (look at veterans’ recent testimony on the consequences of having been sexually assaulted.) Even more troubling, this person will almost certainly go on to rape someone else. And someone else. And someone else. Is it your fault? No. Could someone put a stop to it by filing charges against the bastard? Yes.

The lie that goes with this (we could call it Big Lie #4b) is: it would be better just to forget about this terrible thing and move on. Campus disciplinary procedures often promise this form of resolution, and they tend not to deliver. A rapist might be asked to leave campus — for a semester. Next semester? He’s ba-a-a-a-ck!

Furthermore, the school has no jurisdiction over (and no clue about) the social consequences of procedures that do not graphically underline that a crime has occurred. Because guess what? The rapist talks! What happened was so unfair! It was totally a hook-up! She’s such a bitch! Friends of the rapist, of both genders, will slut-shame you on student-only campus websites, come up to you and ask you why you are ruining their friend’s life, and make your life at school difficult to impossible. If they had to come to terms with the fact that their “friend” was being charged with a crime — rather than a sexual misunderstanding — this might make things a little more real.

Lie#5: You must agree to confidentiality. This is absolutely the sleaziest thing that colleges do, in my opinion, and it isn’t clear to me that they have any legal right to do this.

So talk to your kids before they go back to school. Here is a really good page posted by Roger Williams University that provides some excellent talking points for you and your kid, particularly if your kid is male, a good guy and may find himself in a morally compromised position where he should act to help someone else.


Be Aware, Not Afraid

(A guest blog, written by Maggie P., a Practicum student at SAVES, the Franklin County office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services.  Thank you, Maggie!)

As a female, I have always been taught to recognize and defend myself against those who may cause me harm.  For example, my parents started telling me from a young age to not walk alone at night, to avoid unfamiliar places, and to keep my guard up at all times when interacting with strangers.  This dialogue is common among adolescent females and their protectors, so I never thought anything of it.  As I have grown older, and have become more aware of the world around me, the idea of my parents telling me to be constantly afraid seems ridiculous.  When I came to college at the University of Maine at Farmington, I was given a “rape whistle” in my orientation packet.  It was a joke among my friends, and no one took the tool seriously, especially because there was a $25 fine if you blew it when not in crisis.  I just learned recently, however, that only females were given these whistles; male students had the option as to whether or not they wanted one.  Seriously?  I took this information to be very offensive, as did the other females I was with who found out.  I understand that the university is just trying to protect their female students, but to only assume that we would be the victim of rape or sexual violence is absolutely absurd.  Many people associate sexual violence with the female gender because we are most often seen as vulnerable and, statistically, we are the majority of the victims.  People seem to overlook the fact that 1 in 5 males will be the victim of some sort of sexual violence other than rape at some point in their lifetime (Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault).  I don’t know whether this is due to a lack of education or people’s own choice to overlook the fact, but sexual violence can happen to anyone.  In high schools and universities, this statement should be reinforced.  Maybe this would open young people’s eyes to the severity of sexual violence among all genders, races, and ages.  Education is the best way to prevent sexual violence; not encouraging young females to constantly be on guard and on the defense.  When I was in high school, I don’t remember any lessons in my health class that focused on sexual violence or rape.  I understand that some people still see it as a taboo subject, but without education there can be no progression.  If we continue to just reinforce the defense method to young adult females, and completely ignore young adult males, sexual assault statistics are never going to change.  Schools need to implement education programs, get facts to their students, and encourage the younger generations to be aware instead of just afraid.