I highly encourage everyone to go read Kristen Lombardi’s new article, “Sexual Assault on Campus Shrouded in Secrecy,” which is posted on the website of the Center for Public Integrity.
Personally I found Lombardi’s article thoughtful and well-researched but not particularly earth-shattering in its conclusions. I think that my perspective might be skewed, however, by the fact that I spent three out of my four years at college working as a counselor on an anonymous sexual assault hotline. I also worked as the TA for Violence against Women during my senior year—so I was pretty much surrounded by the issue of sexual assault on a college campus and the very serious concerns highlighted by Lombardi. Since most people do not spend a large portion of their undergraduate experience sequestered in various under-heated rooms discussing rape and devising social marketing campaigns for students (which by the way, is really really hard when your group is anonymous), I think Lombardi’s article acts an awesome expose piece.
Since I’m encouraging all readers to go check out her article, I won’t rehash all of her information and conclusions. I do, however, want to comment on one specific part of her piece. As she explains, prosecutors are notoriously wary of taking on college sexual assault cases due to the ‘he-said she-said nature’ of most incidents and the impact of drug and alcohol abuse on recall etc. This leaves survivors with little other recourse than to turn to academic hearings. As Lombardi points out, these hearings are shrouded in secrecy and their actual impact is impaired by conflicting laws that protect academic records and yet mandate the report of campus offenses. Yet even when a survivor is able to navigate the complicated system, pressure an administrator to move forward with a full hearing, and then convince a ‘jury’ of their peers and educators that misconduct has taken place, the punishment ranges from “ expulsion, suspension, probation, or another academic penalty, like an assigned research paper.”
I read that sentence in the article and laughed. Not a happy laugh though, a kind of incredulous and sad laugh. Really?
A possible punishment for assaulting a fellow student is…drum roll please…an assigned research paper?
What could you possibly write about?
An analytical discourse on the morality of having intercourse with an unconscious and inebriated acquaintance? A Shakespearean style tragedy that relates how your physically restrained a friend and forced them to engage in sex acts?
I know I’m focusing on just one specific aspect of the judicial process at a school, but I think it’s pretty ridiculous that an assigned research paper is considered an appropriate punishment. Assaulting someone on campus is a crime. Even if the local DA is not interested in pressing criminal charges, survivors should be able to turn to their campus administrators and know that they will be acknowledged, supported, and ultimately protected. No survivor should share their story, and then be forced to endure mediation with their attacker to resolved the ‘dispute’, or see them found guilty of misconduct only to write a paper and then resume studies at the same university.
We need to do a lot better for these survivors.
Wednesday, December 2