Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rape on College Campuses

In March, Jaclyn Friedman wrote a great piece for the Washington Post about how rape is handled on college campuses. I love what she doing with this piece, and think it is awesome that she is bringing more attention to an incredibly important issue. However, there are a few things about the article (such as her use of gendered language) that I think missed the mark a little.

First off, the awesome stuff Jaclyn said.

I love that Jaclyn brought attention to the fact that Title IX can be utilized to ensure not only equal athletic opportunities for women in educational settings, but to prohibit sex discrimination in general. This prohibition against sex discrimination in Title IX “specifically obligates schools to prevent and remedy sexual harassment and assault.” Too many young women do not realize the broad protections of Title IX gives them the right to call bullshit (legally and otherwise) when their school does not handle their sexual assault or harassment case appropriately. I also appreciate that Jaclyn, while bringing attention to how awesome Title IX is, acknowledges how hard it can be, emotionally and otherwise, to press charges against your institution for not treating your sexual harassment or assault case appropriately.

Also, Jaclyn brought up a really interesting statistic that I never knew before: Of the more than 400,000 rapes that will likely be committed on a U.S. college campus this year, “more than 90 percent …will be committed by repeat offenders who will rape, on average, six times during their academic careers.” As horrible as these numbers are, they are, in a weird way, encouraging. In Jaclyn’s words:

That rate of recidivism is actually a golden opportunity, if only schools and courts would take it. It means that all we need to do is get serious about punishing the tiny percentage of men who are committing the vast majority of assaults, and many, many fewer women will have to live through the trauma of sexual violation.

The overall message of Jaclyn’s article: that colleges and universities need to stop trying to make themselves look better by underreporting sexual assault crimes on their campus, is also a much-needed message. Jaclyn couples this message with advice to colleges to “eliminate the ‘miscommunication’ excuse that many rapists use by creating an on-campus standard that requires any party to a sexual interaction to make sure their partner is actively enthusiastic about what's happening -not just not objecting.” This was an overarching theme in the book Yes Means Yes that she and Jessica Valenti edited, and it is a point I don’t hear made often enough.

Okay- on to me nitpicking.

Throughout her article, Jaclyn refers to rapists as “he” and rape victims as “she.” I understand that it is more likely for a woman to be raped than a man and that women are most often raped by men. However, the persistent use of gendered language is why men are
even less likely than their female counterparts to report that they have been raped. Also, gendered language further marginalizes those who have been assaulted by a member of the same gender.

Jaclyn says the fact that “Bucknell University is considering abandoning mediation as a way of adjudicating sexual assault cases” is a “small glimmer of hope that change is coming.” Obviously, mediation can be a horribly traumatic experience for a survivor to endure and the idea of an institution forcing a survivor to sit in a room with her or his rapist is disgusting. However, the term “‘abandoning’” seems to imply that it would not be an option for any survivor, even if she or he requested it. I do not know under what circumstances a survivor would want mediation, but I don’t think a school should bar a survivor from using any method she or he thinks she or he needs to help heal. I am doubtful many survivors would choose mediation, but in the event they do they should be able to control how their case is concluded in any way they see fit.

Anyway, all in all, Jaclyn wrote a fantastic article I suggest you all take a look at. If you get a chance to read it, let me know your thoughts in comments.


Amelia said...

Tory, I'm not sure if you noticed it, or when it was posted, but the link to the WaPo article contains a correction that states that Bucknell is actually not considering abandoning mediation as an option. But I still think that your analysis of Jaclyn's words is sound.

Next, I think pursuing a course of gender-neutral discussion about the topic of sexual assault would not only help include a wider variety of situations (and survivors/perpetrators), but it might also help make these discussions easier for men to participate in.

I do a lot of sexual assault activism on my college campus and one of the biggest problems we come up against is men feeling that any discussion about sexual assault/prevention is placing the blame on them, just because they are men. They often get an "Well, I've never raped anyone" attitude and decide that they don't have to participate or even listen. Gender neutral language, if it could be figured out, might help with that problem.

But at the same time, as you mentioned, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of victims of sexual assault are women. And the vast majority of perpetrators are men. But that doesn't mean we can't find a more neutral way to discuss the general problem while still paying attention to the gendered statistics.

Victoria said...


Thanks so much for pointing that out, I did not notice the correction. Oops!