Universities' Failure To Adequately Respond To Sexual Assault On Campus
Reminiscent of the 2011 Kappa Sig letter incident at the University of Southern California (USC) that sparked outrage with its language referring to women as “targets” and sorority members as “sorostitutes,” a very inflammatory list titled “Top 10 Ways to Get Away with Rape” was found just a few days ago. It was discovered in a men’s bathroom in the McBride Hall dormitory at Miami University at Ohio on October 8, along with other “acts of vandalism in the same corridor.”
The list, which mimicked a university-sponsored flier titled "Top 10 Ways to Prevent Sexual Assault," cited using violence and roofies, and climbing into windows, as ways to rape someone – and then get away with it.
In response, Claire Wagner, the spokesperson for Miami University at Ohio, stated that “fewer sexual assaults [were] reported” in the past few years, thereby suggesting that sexual assault on college campuses is a diminishing issue.
However, her reliance on such reports means that she ignores the large percentage of sexual assault victims, both male and female, who never come forward. According the American Association of University Women (AAUW), as much as 95 percent of sexual assaults are never reported. Additionally, AAUW reports that three percent of college women in the country are raped each year. And these statistics don’t even taken into account sexual violence against men, which is even more underreported than sexual violence against women.
Incidents like the creation of this list certainty don’t help those victims feel as if their suffering and justifiable anger will be taken seriously. The ongoing issue of sexual violence is certainly no joking matter, unlike what someone at Miami University at Ohio seems to think.
While the university has indicated that whoever is responsible for the creation of the list will face “internal disciplinary action,” does that threat carry much weight in terms of the volume of sexual assaults occurring on college campuses?
Not only is it difficult for sexual assault victims to come forward, but universities also often fail to impose harsh punishments on students charged with committing sexual assault once a victim has had the courage to speak up. According to the the Center for Public Integrity, most perpetrators of sexual assault on college campuses today “face little or no punishment from school judicial systems.” And that report just considers the perpetrators who are caught after a crime has been reported.
One example of a case into which the Center for Public Integrity looked took place in May of this year. The University of Montana was under fire after authorities discovered that as many as 18 of reported sexual assault cases had been mishandled by the university. And this is just one case of failed university oversight of cases of sexual violence on campus.
Sexual assault on college campuses is undeniably an ongoing problem. Because sexual assault has become a “silent epidemic," institutions of higher education need to focus on fostering an understanding and empathy within the student body that will help prevent insensitive student actions - things like the "Top Ten" list, and sexual assaults overall.
So, while Miami University at Ohio’s response to this appalling list - calling a meeting with the male students in just the McBride dorm - was in the right vein, it seems a fairly inadequate measure in face of the continuing issues with policing, preventing and reporting sexual assaults on campus. Rather than choosing to respond with minimal maneuvers that demonstrate a commitment to public relations, universities faced with incidents of sexual assault need to take a holistic look at their student bodies.
Universities need to take steps to protect their students, not just their reputations. A change like this would in no way be easy, but it’s certainly necessary.
Reach Contributor Zion Samuel here.