Fox News column takes on campus sexual assault -- and pretty much gets things right

Contrary to what some contributors at the network have to say about rape, one Fox columnist doesn't blame victims

By Jenny Kutner

Published September 26, 2014 8:36PM (EDT)

         (Richard Potts)
(Richard Potts)

Fox News doesn't have the best record of addressing the issue of campus sexual assault. Just this week, co-hosts on the network's "Outnumbered" agreed that drunk female college students should take "personal responsibility" for getting raped at fraternity parties (a far too frequent occurrence) -- but that's just one instance of the network patently blaming victims for acts of violence committed against them. (Don't forget about telling domestic violence survivors to "take the stairs.")

But not everyone at Fox News has missed the point, thankfully. In a recent column on, contributor Gregg Jarrett tackled the issue of campus sexual assault deftly and at considerable length, offering some real talk -- finally -- that manages to avoid victim-blaming, slut-shaming or overt admiration for the myriad institutions that have allowed rampant sexual violence to persist:

A woman who attends college is more likely to be assaulted than a woman who does not. Nearly 20 % of female college students have been sexually assaulted, according to a White House task force.

I suspect the true number is significantly higher. Many young women are reluctant to report it. They keep it secret for fear of embarrassment, shame, retribution, and the trauma of reliving the nightmare during legal or disciplinary proceedings. I get it. There are repercussions. Victims are especially afraid of being stigmatized or ostracized within the tight, insular social circles on campus.

Jarrett goes on to point the finger at colleges and universities that fail to adequately investigate rape allegations, going so far as to suggest that Congress do more to require schools to take sexual assault seriously:

Some administrators care less about the victims, and more about their own precious ivory tower images, lest students, parents and donors discover the truth. So, they pretend it doesn’t happen. Like Alice stepping “Through the Looking-Glass,” these colleges live in their own alternative world. It is time they step back into reality. ...

In my mind, too many educational institutions are obsessed with burnishing their stature and safeguarding their reputations. They will change course only if forced to do so. This is where lawyers in the Civil Rights Office at the Dept. of Education come in. They have the authority to halt federal funding to those colleges which fail to prevent, police or properly investigate campus rapes.

They can also levy fines and have done so already. But the amounts thus far have been insignificant.

Congress needs to act to impose much harsher penalties. They can be calculated based on a school’s wealth. ... Of course, there must be assurances that the penalty’s cost cannot be passed along to students in the form of higher tuition. But  three million bucks might actually get someone’s attention in those ivory towers.

There is, of course, one catch to Jarrett's argument, which concludes by suggesting that colleges and universities do all they can to inform and involve local police. While it's true that rape and sexual assaults are crimes and that it's up to the police to investigate them, law enforcement officials often don't. As the New York Times reported earlier this month, an look into the handling of sexual assault at Florida State University revealed that local police often failed to move forward with investigations unless they received explicit directives from victims to conduct an investigation. If a female victim did not say she wanted her assault investigated, officials routinely failed to move forward and labeled the victim "uncooperative." That doesn't happen with other crimes.

Jarrett is on to something: Colleges and universities do need to take pains to educate their students about sexual assault, and they should be required to investigate campus rapes and adjudicate fairly. If and when they fail to do so, schools should be required to pay for their mishandling of justice. But law enforcement officials must be held to a similar standard. As Jarrett notes, sexual assault is a crime -- so police need to investigate it as they would any other crime.

Jenny Kutner

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Campus Sexual Assault Crisis Fox News Higher Education It's On Us Rape Sexism Sexual Assault Title Ix