Colleges on campus rape: Shhh!

A new report says students face a secretive university judicial system when it comes to sexual assault

By Tracy Clark-Flory
December 2, 2009 12:10AM (UTC)
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Students who are raped on campus often turn to school officials for support only to be ushered into a secretive and intimidating college judiciary system, according to a new report. The Center for Public Integrity's nine-month investigation has found that young women who report an assault to their college "can encounter mysterious disciplinary proceedings, closed-mouth school administrations, and off-the-record negotiations." Worse yet, students can come to rely solely on the college administration in sexual assault cases because the local district attorney often declines to press charges due to the "he said she said" nature of most cases or the involvement of booze or drugs casting doubt on the accuser's story. 

The Center interviewed 33 female students who reported being raped by a fellow student and 48 experts on school disciplinary processes, surveyed 152 crisis centers serving college campuses and performed an extensive review of relevant case records from the past decade. It found that "school policies and practices can lead students to drop complaints, or submit to gag orders -- a practice deemed illegal." Often, the process has no transparency, little oversight and punishments of the accused are rare. Sometimes colleges simply go the route of "confidential mediation" -- yup, reconciliation between the alleged victim and her accused rapist -- where everything is considered off-the-record, even a confession of guilt. Of course, schools have an invested interest in keeping rape cases on the D.L. -- it would be bad P.R.


You might ask: What business do schools have in investigating a felony in the first place? Well, colleges and local law enforcement have dual jurisdiction when it comes to on-campus rapes. The criminal justice system, of course, is charged with determining the accused rapist's guilt, while the administration determines whether he violated the student code of conduct and, if so, what the appropriate punishment is. These secretive campus proceedings arise from two federal laws that are actually meant in part to defend sexual assault victims' rights: Title IX and the Clery Act. The actual effect, though, is to "re-victimize an already vulnerable student," as The Center's Executive Director Bill Buzenberg put it in a press release. "As if being a victim of sexual assault isn't difficult enough, it becomes even more traumatic when survivors’ schools become barriers to justice."

Tracy Clark-Flory

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