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Sexual Assault On Campus: Why You Can't Necessarily Trust Your School

Sep 2, 2011 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

Sexual assault is one of the most common crimes that occur on college campuses. According to a 2005 report funded by the Department of Justice, approximately one in five women will be sexually assaulted while they attend college. And despite the high numbers, many women report that schools often fail them in handling the crimes—and punishing the perpetrators.

In 2010, the Center for Public Integrity released a study detailing a culture of leniency on campus surrounding rape cases. Over the course of interviewing 50 experts in on-campus disciplinary students and 33 rape victims, the study determined that victims repeatedly have trouble bringing their rapists to justice—and are sometimes hampered, rather than helped, by their schools. Rapists are rarely expelled when found guilty within the school disciplinary system—and it’s not unusual for the victim to drop out while the rapist goes on to graduate.

Colleges have a variety of reasons for wanting to keep on-campus rape cases quiet. Students who press charges outside the school system sometimes wind up attracting press coverage—and that never looks good for the university. In addition,
if the rapist is a prominent athlete on a high-profile sports team, his disgrace
could hurt the team’s performance—which could impact school revenues.

If you are sexually assaulted on campus, here are a few things you can
do to make sure your rapist is brought to
justice—with or without the help of your school.

Go to the hospital

After a sexual assault, your body is a crime scene. Don’t wash up or even change clothes—as this could damage or alter the evidence. If you’ve been assaulted, the first thing you should do is go to the hospital and have a forensic nurse assemble a rape kit for you. A rape kit catalogues DNA evidence and other physical evidence of the assault—and it plays a vital part in prosecuting a rape case. Do not let anyone persuade you to clean up, change clothes, or wait to get a rape kit done.

Go to the police

A college judicial system is not a criminal court. The courts enforce rape laws, follow strict evidence standards, and can subpoena witnesses and records. Colleges typically try to educate, not punish, with their verdicts—and often, these verdicts amount to minor punishment. Rapists are rarely expelled from school.

This makes many college judicial systems ill-prepared to handle sexual assault cases. However, the unfortunate truth is that many students must go through the college judicial system if the courts will not take their cases. Still, your first attempt to get justice should be through the court system, not the school’s judicial board. Much of the time, the appropriate punishment for a convicted rapist isn’t community service, suspension, or even expulsion—it’s jail.

Go to an off-campus rape crisis or counseling center

Sometimes, schools may not provide access to victim’s advocates—so don’t expect to rely on your school. Research a victim’s advocacy or counseling center off-campus with experience dealing with rape victims.

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you to back off

This doesn’t have to be overt. According to the report, administrators—sometimes even the dean—would sometimes suggest to victims that it might be a good idea to take a semester off or go into counseling rather than pursue a judicial case. This is an effective way of nudging a victim into silence. Unless you feel you need to take the time off for your own mental health, don’t let anyone influence you into it.

Be aware of your rights

Under Title IX law, the college does not have the option to do nothing in the face of a sexual assault charge. Legally, a school can be held liable for sexual assaults that happen on campus if the case is judged to be mishandled. The school must investigate, regardless of whether a student asks them to or whether the police are conducting an investigation. Mediation is generally considered inappropriate in sexual assault cases.

Go to an outside agency

If you are receiving no help from your school or the criminal courts, you still have options. These include talking to a local journalist or lawyer, contacting your state’s Department of Education, or your state’s Office of Civil Rights. It’s possible that outside officials or public outrage could put enough pressure on your school to force it to reassess the case.

Sexual assault is a major criminal offense. While many schools try to encourage students to take their cases to the college judiciary board, colleges are often not prepared to handle these cases—they belong in criminal courts. If you choose to press charges against your assailant, don’t rely on your school. Seek out off-campus hospitals, counseling venues, and courts to handle your case.

How should I report a sexual assault? -

How should I report a sexual assault?: Student... by LocalNews-GrabNetworks


Kyle Eastham Over a year ago

Good info. Sexual assault survivors should pursue both criminal action through the police and courts as well as civil action, which is the university's judicial process. They are separate processes with different sets of rules and outcomes: courts can send a perpetrator to jail; university can suspend or expel him (but cannot send him to jail).

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