Over the past few years as fighting sexual assault on college campus has been put in the spotlight, something curious has happened. The number of reported assaults at America’s top universities has increased.
Among the top 25 universities in the country, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, there was a 61 percent jump in reports of sexual assault from 2011 to 2013. The large increase was reported by Al Jazeera America’s flagship program, “America Tonight” based on an independent analysis of data.
The data they used is publicly available, but the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), which monitors the statistics, only has data through 2009 posted online.
What the numbers show is that at the nation’s most prestigious educational institutions, the number of reported sexual assaults went up dramatically. Though the overall numbers are still relatively low compared to the student populations—MIT reported assaults went from 7 to 17 —there seems to be a connection with the greater prominence on the national stage and the increase in reported assaults.
In 2010, President Barack Obama began to call for broader survivor support and more aggressive action against sexual assault. In early 2014, he went a step further and established a White House task force to see that the country’s institutions of higher education comply with the many federal laws in place to protect students.
“Reports show … that institutions’ compliance with these federal laws is uneven and, in too many cases, inadequate,” said Obama in his January 2014 memorandum forming the task force.
One of the biggest guns available to students in that arsenal of federal laws is Title IX. Created in 1972, it requires universities that receive federal funds to aid students who complain of sexual assault. If a student feels their complaint has been ignored, they can file a Title IX discrimination complaint against the university that will then lead to an investigation.
It’s a well-used tool at many campuses.
In fact, the current list of colleges and universities not in compliance with Title IX has 84 names of some of the nation’s most well known campuses. They include the University of Southern California, Emory University, Harvard University Law School, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dartmouth, Princeton, and many others.
The extensive involvement of the federal government, from the DOE all the way to the president himself, begs one question. Why don’t victims just call the police? Part of the answer may be in a 2000 study by the Department of Justice (DOJ). It found that fewer than 5 percent of women on college campuses reported rape or attempted rape to law enforcement. A separate study in 2007 found the same results.
Whether or not victims make a report, an individual campus process for review and discipline after reported sexual assaults doesn’t supersede the law.
Campus Police Dont Prosecute
“The first responder to that crime may be the campus police,” said Derek Wright, a 20-year veteran detective of the NYPD who is now retired. “But campus police are not the person who prosecutes for the crime.”
Wright believes that part of the reason behind increased reports of sexual assault on campus is owed to high-profile cases of athletic directors caught trying to conceal accusations against their star athletes. Then there was the shocking case of former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in 2011. Sandusky was convicted of almost four dozen child sexual assaults.
“A lot of times these things were being swept under the rug—a lot of administrators didn’t want to go there,” said Wright, who added that today things are changing. “Today everybody is very transparent.”
It still often tracks back to the victim’s willingness to talk, though.
Fear Hostility, Reprisals
According to the DOJ, victims name several reasons for not reporting assault to local law enforcement, including not seeing the incident as harmful enough or important enough to involve police. But victims also said they feared being treated with hostility by police, or feared reprisals for reporting the crime.
One of the more well known cases of this type stems from the alleged 2012 rape of a Columbia University student, Emma Sulkowicz. In her case, which has garnered national attention, after she reported the rape to her university in April 2013, the situation wasn’t resolved. So she went to the police, in May 2014.
In an interview with Columbia University’s campus newspaper, The Columbia Spectator, Sulkowicz gave an abysmal description of her experience with the police.
“There’s a reason survivors choose not to go to the police, and that’s because they’re treated as the criminals,” she told the Spectator. “The rapists are innocent until proven guilty but survivors are guilty until proven innocent, at least in the eyes of the police.”
Though it has become more common for college campus victims to report assault, they remain at higher risk than other women in America, according to the West Virginia Foundation for Rape and Information Services. It points to several studies that have found that 5 percent of college females are raped within an academic year. They are typically between the ages of 20 to 24. They are also far more likely to be victims of violence and stalking.
Alcohol Complicates Things
Then there is the role of alcohol, which complicates the situation immeasurably. It can both change the dynamic between victim and aggressor, and influence how likely a victim is to report an attack to campus police, according to the National College Women Sexual Victimization Study.
Radio host and writer Bill Frezza made the provocative, and unpopular, argument in a Forbes.com article on September 24 that seriously drunk female guests at fraternity parties should be escorted out the door and into a cab home. Frezza is also president of the alumni house corporation of his MIT fraternity.
A major source of the problem, according to Frezza, is “pre-gaming,” the practice of underage students chugging hard liquor before even entering the door of a frat house.
The piece was taken off of the Forbes website and Frezza no longer writes for them, but his perspective sparked a storm of controversy about sexism and paternalism. Yet he raises a point about what could be described as traditionally gentlemanly conduct that is largely ignored in the modern era: never take advantage of an inebriated lady.
“We have very little control over women who walk in the door carrying enough pre-gaming booze in their bellies to render them unconscious before the night is through,” wrote Frezza, who provided his original article to Epoch Times. “Yes, boozed up males also show up at parties, sometimes mobs of them disturbing the peace on the front steps. But few are allowed in, especially if they are strangers. Plus, it remains socially acceptable for bouncers to eject drunk and rowdy males because our society rarely casts them as sympathetic victims, as opposed to the irresponsible jerks that they are.”
Frezza then turns to the problem of female students who may be so drunk that they are being “irresponsible jerks,” too. If she perceives she was assaulted afterward, the law, he says, will be on her side.
“Never, ever take a drunk female guest to your bedroom—even if you have a signed contract indicating sexual consent,” writes Frezza, who says that new campus rules could determine that if a woman is drunk, “all consent is null and void.”
“And while a rape charge under these circumstances is unlikely to hold up in a court of law, it doesn’t take much for a campus kangaroo court to get you expelled, ruining your life while saddling your fraternity with a reputation for harboring rapists.”