Sexual Assault on Universities and College Campuses
Introduction to Sexual Assault
Sexual assault refers to an involuntary sexual act where an individual is forced to engage in against his or her will (Hoffman, 1998). As the world evolves and becomes more politically correct and more culturally sensitive, certain injustices that might have been swept under the rug in the past are now no longer tolerated, but brought to the light of day for judgment and justice. Today, more stories of sexual assault are playing out at colleges and universities across the country forcing scores of students from different universities to go public by filing formal federal complaints (Schwartz, 1997). Sexual assault continues to be a thing which occurs repeatedly on college campuses, phenomena which violate the very objective of these institutions for higher learning. In order to better prevent sexual assault within the university setting, the world has quickly learned that there needs to be more of a zero tolerance policy in place (Bohmer, 2003). In the U.S.A., sexual assault is a statutory offense hence giving the Obama administration an opportunity to step up pressure on many institutions so as to stop sexual assault. Currently, 55 colleges in the nation are under investigation in connection with the allegations that they ignored sexual assault and harassment complaints.
The phenomenon of sexual assault to college aged women remains one of the major injustices and saddest evils of our day. Unfortunately, 1 in 4 college-aged women report experience that meet the legal definition of rape or attempted rape (Hotelling, 2001). One in 5 college women are raped during their college years. Most survivors of sexual assaults are full-time students. A White House Task Force found that nearly 20% of female college students have been assaulted, but only 12% of these cases are reported. More cases need to be reported and more accurate numbers need to be compiled on a regular basis: this is necessary not only so that justice can be better carried out, but so that experts and officials are able to collect a better snapshot regarding the nature of our society and the young adults within it.
Sexual Assaults in Schools
When it comes to the issue of taking decisive action against those who perpetrate or engage in sexual assault, the Obama administration has taken a strong stand, with proactive measures to start engaging in a zero tolerance policy. The Obama Administration was lauded for releasing the names of 55 U.S. colleges that are currently under investigation for sexual assault as a means of putting additional pressure on these institutions to better adequately deal with the pressure from the inside (Steinhauer & Joachim, 2014). This marked the first time that the Department of Education had ever made a complete list of all the colleges that were under investigation for potential violations of any antidiscrimination laws under Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972: this move is so significant because the law prevents colleges that allow gender discrimination to receive any federal money (Steinhauer & Joachim, 2014).
This development is so significant because it demonstrates how the Obama Administration is in fact treating sexual assault as a gender issue, which it is. Most of the victims of sexual assault are female. Research carried out in different campuses showed that most of the students' complaints were ignored by the disciplinary panel. Such developments demonstrates that even passively, university boards are fundamentally tolerating violence against women -- an allowance which is undeniably a form of unjust discrimination.
By naming the dozens of universities which were currently facing Title IX investigations, there is thus a heightened amount of transparency, one which fosters a more intensive public awareness of civil rights. This is important, because in the past, high school students weren't aware if they were applying to schools which were/are under investigation for Title IX violations. For instance, Tufts University was recently disciplined, as one institution which had failed to obey federal law, by allowing a sexually hostile history: perpetrators will be expelled rather than suspended if found guilty (Kitchener, 2013). This will hopefully send a strong message to university students everywhere that sexual assault on college campuses will absolutely not to be tolerated in any shape or form.
However, sexual assault is indeed a complex crime and one which is often not reported on college campuses because the victim often knows her assailant: he's not some stranger in a dark alley; he's the guy in her Medieval poetry class, or the guy in the fraternity that everyone likes (Kitchener, 2013). However, policies like these soon become tricky: however, in a college setting, where the perpetrator knows the victim and there's more of connection along with threads of shared friends or acquaintances, such an extreme policy can have negative implications and repercussions on the victim's own college life: "A victim will think, 'I've been with this guy for two years. I don't want him to be expelled,' said Alexandra Brodsky, a 2012 Yale graduate and Founder of Know Your IX, an organization devoted to educating college women about their Title IX rights… 'If a mandatory expulsion policy is going to deter someone from reporting, that's a big problem'" (Kitchener, 2013). Thus, while it's great that Duke University is taking such a strong stand against sexual assault, and creating an environment where it will not be tolerated at any cost -- an environment which could mean the end of one's academic career -- these findings reflect the fact that sexual assault on college campuses is a more nuanced and delicate issue, and one which needs a solution just as complex as the problem presents in being.
Many women on college campuses demonstrate that their reluctance to report the issue is connected to the fact that they fear how the punishment will impact themselves. For example, if a young man on a college campus sexually assaults a young woman there, the woman reports it, and the man gets expelled, it's quite likely that the girl will have to suffer the wrath of the man's social circle -- the friends, fraternity members or fellow classmates who are infuriated that the girl was the person who "caused" the end of this young man's academic career.
The case with Emma Sulkowicz and Columbia University is one which made national headlines repeatedly. The case demonstrated how it can be in a university's best interest to not take the statements made by victims seriously. Emma describes the nerve-wracking experience of having to watch her rapist give testimony, along with the elaborate lies and fantasies he made up about how she hit on him -- in the most graphic and disgusting manner (Sulkowicz, 2014). As Emma stated, "It was scary to see someone's mind work like that." This demonstrates that this young man on campus is a dangerous person: sociopaths are known for reveling in lies and manipulation, something that it appears this young man is strongly invested in. "Sociopaths use deceit and manipulation on a regular basis. Why? 'Lying for the sake of lying. Lying just to see whether you can trick people. And sometimes telling larger lies to get larger effects,' Dr. Stout told Interview Magazine" (Cooper-White, 2013). In this case, Sulkowicz is absolutely correct in her assessment: that it was scary to see someone's mind work in such a fashion: it is indeed scary because the serial rapist demonstrated repeatedly that he was adept at lying and that he was capable of inventing a range of fantastical elements which were all part of this fictional story, compete with details that absolved him of guilt. And Columbia University was more than happy to oblige in this regard: the university found him not-guilty. When Sulkowicz appealed, the appeal went directly to the dean who makes the final decision on all sexual assault cases on campus: this was problematic as Sulkowicz explained. There needed to be a disinterested party or one specially trained in dealing with survivors (Sulkowicz, 2014). More of Sulkowicz's commentary reflects the fact that her rapist is an imbalanced individual who enjoys the path of continuing to torment her, and is a danger to other students on campus: when Sulkowicz explained that when she was taking a photography class her rapist got permission to use the dark room during her class time, something which caused her to experience the symptoms of PTSD (2014).
As Sulkowicz succinctly stated, as long as he is on campus, he can continue to harass her: "I think the school is pressured to find him…
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