Sexual Assault and the Judicial System (INTRO) 1 of 4
I first became aware of rape as a “real thing” after my freshman year when a good friend of mine was attacked over the summer. It was a different time and we didn’t really talk about “date rape,” so rape to me was the stereotypical “guy in an ally” thing. So despite how horrible my friend’s rape was (and it was the stuff of nightmares) there was a randomness to it that somehow made it both more terrible and also something unlikely to happen to anyone else I knew.
It wasn’t until years later that “acquaintance rape” became a larger part of the popular dialogue. I remember talking to women I either knew or was dating, and being stunned by the number of them that had stories-either about themselves or about a close friend. It seemed like I actually knew more people who were assaulted than weren’t, and I was stunned.
When I started in student affairs I didn’t really know anything about the profession. I wasn’t even an RA; heck, not only wasn’t I an RA, but I had some disciplinary issues at both Tulane and UCONN. I had no idea what RAs or Hall Directors did, except that one wrote me up for being stupid, and I had to see the other. What I knew, however, was that I was going to work on sexual assault because when you have a hall of 210 women the “1 in 4” number becomes too real to ignore. By the time I started I knew that approximately 1 in 4 college women would be sexually assaulted during their 4 years. I knew most of them would never tell anyone. I knew most of the perpetrators would never even face disciplinary charges, much less civil or criminal cases. I also knew that if I spoke to every male student I could find that none of them would consider themselves predators. At the time I believed that a lot of the reasons assaults were so prevalent was because guys were naïve, inexperienced, or just dumb so I dedicated myself to educating them about not being an “unintentional rapist.” (Program nutshell: If you can have sex with someone at a party, but could not the day after then you’re committing sexual assault.)
Even that turned out to be wrong. As I did programming and advocacy work I learned just how big of a problem this was. I read a lot on masculine identity issues, sexual identity formation, and feminist theory about the consequences of the objectification in popular culture. Most recently was Dr. David Lisak’s work on “the undetected rapist” showing just how intentional a lot of these sexual assaults actually are. At MIT I had a chance to help shape the disciplinary response to sexual assaults and work with our advocacy office in an attempt to lower the barrier to the judicial process for survivors/victims. I’m proud of what we did, but over 90% of the survivors who actually sought help never came forward. Of those who did only about 1/3 went all the way to a hearing. So, if you assume that 60-85% of all assaults go undisclosed to anyone then the actual percentage of victims who used our system was depressingly low. (e.g. if there were 100 actual assaults and (assuming high reporting) 40 sought help from the advocate, 4 spoke to me and 2 actually had hearings.) The worst part about it is that we had a good system.
When I left student affairs and started College Judicial Consultants I was really worried that I was not going to be able to remain an advocate on these issues so I have really tried to focus on reaching out to advocacy groups and offices to offer our services at a fraction of our per-incident costs to help as many people as possible. The idea is simple—if an advocate has a student thinking about going through their system we can help them understand what the process will be, anticipate some questions, practice the actual hearing, and do all of that remotely so they can maintain as much of their anonymity as they would like. That way the advocate would know who they are, but we could help them get the most out of their system and, hopefully, greatly reduce the revictimization of bringing a case forward.
While we are still doing that, I thought it was worth addressing some issues for victims, accused perpetrators, and some prevention strategies. Since I’ve been criticized for making these blogs too long I am going to break it up into 4 blogs so you can read all of them or just the ones you think apply to you. Right now the intention is to do the next one for victims, the one after for accused students, and the last one having some individual and group risk management suggestions. However, before I go I want to make sure I leave you with a few essential points:
- If you are a victim, no matter how good your school is, you should be aware of perhaps the greatest resource in the country—The Victim Rights Law Center. They are attorneys and advocates who are experts in these issues. If you have any questions at all about your legal rights, you should give them a call. There are offices in Portland, OR and Boston, MA with the main office in Boston. That number is 617-399-6720. Put their number in your phone in case you or one of your friends ever needs it. NOTE: They do not assist accused perpetrators of sexual assault and will likely not help you find assistance. This is a service for victims only. While I am confident in our ability to help you in your disciplinary system, if you think there is even a remote possibility that you will want to proceed civilly or criminally, you should contact them immediately. It’s worth contacting them even if you think you’re going to use us to have as much support as possible. Have I mentioned they are amazing?
- If you are the victim of sexual assault or other interpersonal violence it is not your fault. Nothing you did or did not do gave someone permission to do anything to you without your consent.
- There are a lot of resources for you. Your school likely has dedicated people who can assist you, your local community may have some advocacy centers, and most courts should have a victim’s advocate or at least be able to point you to one.
- The Department of Education recently came out with a “Dear Colleague” letter that “suggests” a wide range of support resources and services that your college should offer. This includes moving the perpetrator from your residence hall, getting an escort to class, obtaining delays in academic deadlines, and a host of other resources. While schools are at different places with the services they offer, there should be more of them than there were a year ago.
- I do not want to discourage anyone from seeking help, but some college personnel may believe they have a reporting requirement. In other words, while they should keep your identifying information out of any report, they may be mandated to report that a crime of this type has happened (or at least incorrectly believe they are.) There are ways around this, but the best advice I can give is to ask someone what their confidentiality policy is, and what they are required to report before you say something to them. A lot of colleges are erring on the side of legal caution and WAY overstepping this requirement, IMHO.) If it will help, you can contact us and we can make some calls for you.
- I am in no way giving legal advice here or in the subsequent blogs. I am going to focus ONLY on how to approach these issues using your college’s disciplinary systems. Keep in mind that whether or not the police get involved or it goes to court, sexual assault is a crime. If it happened to you or someone you know there are things you should do in case you decide you want to pursue those options in the future, but I am not talking about that. If you are accused you should get an attorney ASAP to protect yourself, but I am not talking about that. I am going to talk as if the ONLY venue to deal with this is your college’s judicial system, and anything that seems like legal advice isn’t.
If you have any thoughts you would like me to consider while I’m writing this email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next: Advice for the complainant-survivor.