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Rape Goes Unpunished At USC

Francesca Bessey |
May 3, 2013 | 7:34 p.m. PDT

Deputy Opinion Editor

I, and millions of other survivors, can tell you that rape is not a myth. (Maria Rodriguez)
I, and millions of other survivors, can tell you that rape is not a myth. (Maria Rodriguez)
My name is Francesca. I’m a sophomore student at the University of Southern California (USC) and I am a victim of rape.

It took me nearly a year to realize what had happened to me. Despite the nagging discomfort, the persistent physical pain, the memory of unprotected sex when I had never in my life engaged in intercourse without a condom, all I remembered was a bad night and a worse hook-up.

I was traumatized and I was in denial. This is a common enough phenomenon among victims of sexual violence. But it isn’t just the victims who refuse to acknowledge the reality before them.

It’s our peers. Our friends. Sometimes our families. For those of us in college, however, the worst culprit is often our schools, and those supposedly charged with keeping us healthy and safe.

Tucker Reed is a female student at USC and a fellow survivor of sexual violence. In December 2010, Reed says she was raped by her then-boyfriend, also a student at USC. Like me, she remained in denial of what had happened to her for a long time. In October 2012, she arranged to make recordings of her boyfriend in which he confessed to assaulting her. In December, she provided these recordings to USC. After several months of delay, according to Reed, the university took no disciplinary action against the alleged rapist. He will, in fact, graduate from the university scot-free in two week’s time.

In response, Reed posted her story, along with her accused's name and photo, on Tumblr in February. She and at least 10 other women who feel that USC did not appropriately adjudicate their cases of sexual assault are now in the process of filing a lawsuit against the school for violating federal Title IX laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex.

Beyond improperly adjudicating cases of sexual violence, the university has also done little to prevent these types of assaults from happening in the future. USC has made no statement to the student body on the prevalence of sexual assault, nor has it developed an action plan to make the student community safer. Earlier this year, USC failed to address or even acknowledge student concerns about incidences of non-consensual sex posted on the USC Hook-ups page. In March, the school suspended the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity chapter for sexual misconduct for five years—but no particular students were held accountable and no action was taken regarding the questionable conduct of other houses on the Row.

When shots were fired on campus in October of last year, USC launched a comprehensive new security plan, sent multiple letters to both parents and students and began construction of a fence to circulate the entire perimeter of the school. But when a woman reports an alleged rape, the response is to pretend it never happened.

I have lived in an off-campus residence for over a year. I have walked, longboarded and biked in the neighborhood countless times after dark. But never have I felt as unsafe as I have been made to feel in certain USC fraternity houses.

Reed’s story is, of course, old news. USC is unfortunately not the first school to attract media attention for mishandling student-on-student sexual violence. In October 2012, a former Amherst College student released her account of what she described as being raped on campus and how her school refused even her request to transfer residences so she would not have to live in the same dorm as her attacker. In February 2013, University of North Carolina sophomore Landen Gambill was sent to her school’s “Honor Court” after publicly sharing her story of sexual assault.

And just last month, 37 Occidental College students, faculty and alumni filed their own complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for violating Title IX laws, including “punishing” a student rapist by requiring him to write a five-page book report.

Five typed pages. That is the value that Occidental has assigned to the bodies of female students on its campus. But women across the country could tell you the same story—at colleges, in the workplace, in the military, at nightclubs, in their homes. Findings from the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey launched by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that nearly one in five women have been the victim of a rape or attempted rape. For college women, the statistics are closer to one in four. But the attention given to sex crimes in all of these settings is disproportionately lacking.

Why all the silence? Why, when a woman reports a sexual assault, do we automatically assume she is lying?

I—and millions of other survivors—can tell you: rape is not a myth. Just because it is painful does not make it untrue. Just because it is shocking does not make it suspect.

Just because I am a woman does not make my voice invalid.

I want to be proud of my university. I want to feel confident that college is a place where students respect and value one another and where women are afforded the same consideration as men. But the truth is that a woeful ignorance pervades the very institutions that pride themselves on knowledge. Acts of violence and degradation are tacitly encouraged. Rapists continue to rape with impunity, under the guise of bright, promising college boys.

Amherst, Occidental, North Carolina, USC… how many more schools have failed as educators, as providers of their students’ well-being? How many more young women—or men—have to bear their pain in public so that the voices of victims will be heard? How many more rapists will graduate without incident while those whose lives they have disregarded are vetted by their communities?

USC, I hope you are listening. I hope you take this opportunity to recognize your mistakes and rectify your inadequacies.

But if you choose not to listen, know that we are not going away. We have been hurt, but we are not broken. We have been quiet, but we will no longer be silent.


Reach Deputy Opinion Editor Francesca Bessey here.

If you, or anyone you know, have been a victim of sexual assault at the University of Southern California and feel that the university did not respond appropriately to your case, or if you are simply interested in ending impunity for rapists at USC, please contact the USC Student Coalition Against Rape (S.C.A.R.) here.

Editor's note: A couple of sentences in this story were updated after publication to make clear that the person Reed has accused has not been charged or convicted of any crime.


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Anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2013 12:43 PM

Victim mentality, is it ever going to end?

Anonymous (not verified) on May 27, 2013 2:53 AM

I posted this as a reply to another person's comment, but I would really like to get my points across, so I am posting it again here:

Just because USC turned down one rape victim's claim doesn't mean the school is supporting rape. We all know that laws and legal procedures are just black and white. When we are reaching a gray area, such as having insufficient evidences in some cases, some victims just don't get the justice that they deserve. It's terrible, but we can't just blame the justice system or the school for it. USC did the best that it could, and I truly believe our school is protective of all its students. Think about it, how much can the school do before it begins to invade our personal freedom and privacy? There are already sufficient amount of DPS officers near major parties. When frats violate certain code of conducts, they get punished. You can't expect USC to be there at all times in the frat houses, and stopping all unwanted sexual activities. Get real, it is not happening.

And most importantly, you can't just rely on society to provide and make all the decisions for you. This is where self-responsibility and making good decisions come in. In Tucker's case, she was intoxicated, and she performed consensual sexual acts before rape occurred. It is not her fault that she got raped, but she did make herself vulnerable by being with a guy alone in an apartment. If you don't want to be taken advantage of, don't put yourself in situations like that. And that goes for men and women as well. I went studying abroad through a USC program, and I was groped while going out with my friends during that trip, and I didn't blame USC for that. It was my decision to go out at night, and I'm fully aware that by being in an adult party, I'm putting myself in a vulnerable position for unwanted sexual advances. The best thing I could do in a situation like that is to stay vigilant, limit my alcohol intake and remain conscious, and always make sure a buddy is there to look out for me and bring me home safely.

Being a woman is not easy. But instead of pointing fingers at who's to blame, just take care of yourself. We are all grown-ups, we can't expect society, your job, or even your school to take care and protect every aspect of your lives. USC has done the best that it could, and the rest is really up to us as students to make wise decisions.

And lastly (slight off-topic), but it angers me greatly that some USC students would discount the 2013 graduation, because it was, as quoted by several comments on the USC Facebook page, "overshadowed by USC rape culture." I know you guys are fighting for a good cause, but there is a time and occasion for everything.

Personally, I had a wonderful time at USC, and my well-being was never threatened during my 4 years at this campus. No institution is perfect. Stop bashing our school.

Anonymous (not verified) on May 27, 2013 8:13 AM

Furthermore, blaming the school for rejecting the case is just ridiculous. Societies and institutions function upon laws, guidelines, and standard proceedings. Anyone is innocent until proved guilty. And of course, sufficient evidence is necessary in order to deem someone as guilty of a crime. In Tucker's case, she got turned down because she didn't have sufficient evidence ruled by the court. Remember Casey Anthony? The court didn't find enough evidence against her, so she was set free. At first, I blamed the jurors and the system too. But I changed my opinion after I read the jurors' interview. Here are some of the things the jurors said. Food for thought, read this and think about it yourself:

"I did not say she was innocent. I just said there was not enough evidence. If you cannot prove what the crime was, you cannot determine what the punishment should be."

"We were sick to our stomach to get that verdict. We were crying, and not just the women. It was emotional and we weren't ready. We wanted to do it with integrity and not contribute to the sensationalism of the trial."

They didn't like Casey either, but they just couldn't find the evidence to prosecute her. It's the same in this case. The school didn't fail you. The circumstances failed you. USC was merely following guidelines. There is no prejudice against women. There is no blaming the victim. There is nothing but just "he said, she said."

Also, we, as outsiders, do not know the whole story. We are not Tucker, we are not Francesca, and we were not involved in the situation at all. We gathered bits and pieces of the situation through blogs and news. No one truly knew what happened aside from the victims and the alleged rapists. You might choose to side with the victim, but the justice system is ruled by evidence and facts, not emotions.

Before I get called a rapist defender, let me remind you that I still think rape is a horrible crime against humanity. And all rapists should get locked up forever. My point is that you and all the other victims are blaming the wrong person. It is not USC's fault that you do not get the justice you deserve. Channel the energy to heal, and help other victims instead. Our world is not perfect, and we don't always get the justice we deserve.

E (not verified) on May 15, 2013 6:43 PM

Ms. Reed's allegations are highly suspect. From her own writings, it appears that she instigated most of the sexual activity (including providing an underage person alcohol) and does not provide any evidence that she did not consent to sexual intercourse. Most of the evidence she provides (including the edited confessions) show no illegal committed by Mr. Bean (also, no attorney would advise her to post suspect information for her "emotional health." They would likely advise her of possible civil penalties of doing so).

Rape is often underreported. That is not the case here.

USC and the LA DA reached a correct legal decision based on the evidence presented.

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Anonymous (not verified) on May 15, 2013 3:50 AM

"Why, when a woman reports a sexual assault, do we automatically assume she is lying?"

Because, in America, a man is innocent until PROVEN guilty. We automatically assume everyone is innocent of any given accusation until compelling evidence is properly collected and presented in a court of law.

But, given your statement, why should we automatically assume the man is guilty?

Isaac (not verified) on May 9, 2013 10:25 PM

Francesca is incredibly brave for doing what she is doing. Though justice may never be served for the specific horrendous crime Francesca is a victim of, she is speaking up and looking out for others like her to ensure these disgusting crimes will no longer be taken lightly or swept under the rug. With her unparalleled bravery, this strong woman looks beyond herself as a victim and is going to make a difference for all others like her. In the big picture, it is people like Tucker and Francesca who will see this cause get the attention it deserves and ensure proper adjustments are made for justice to be served on behalf of those who come after them. These schools cannot right their wrongs; but they can and they will stop repeating those wrongs.

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Anonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2013 9:27 AM

At Stanford University, a group of student organizations and University offices have collaborated on a campus-wide campaign to educate the University community on issues surrounding sexual consent.

“There needs to be a common understanding on what sexual consent is and what it entails. Absent that, it makes in more difficult to understand when boundaries are being crossed.” Angela Exson, director of the Office of Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse (SARA) at Stanford University.

“The idea behind [the campaign] was that there are conversations had about sexual assault on campus but there isn’t always space for discourse just about consent, or having a more positive constructive conversation about consent,” Jake Winkelman ’15, co-president of Men Against Abuse Now (MAAN) at Stanford University.

To date, the campaign has mainly consisted of a brief emailed survey that asks what it means to give consent, and what it means to ask for it.

The survey responses from participating Stanford students are illuminating and underscore the complexity of the issue. See http://letstalkaboutconsent.wordpress.com

Here is an example a recent response from a thoughtful Stanford student:

“First of all, I think it’s important to know that I am male. With that in mind, there is really only one clear way to give consent: saying “yes” to a question regarding the desire for sex. However, how often does one really ask for sex? In reality, sexual consent and foreplay is about flirtation, guesswork, and interpreting signals. Granted, a lingering kiss does not necessarily equal consent – but it does suggest a lead into it. Are we to assume consent only comes at the moment before sex? This seems naive to me – a better way to think about it is when does someone stop the interaction. The assumption within the heat of a sexual encounter is always going to be “yes” – it’s how we are built, we have a desire to copulate. We also have a brain that can override that desire, and thus, if desire is assumed to be a base constant, then the only appropriate way to give consent is “not to say no”. If a girl or a guy says no, the consent is denied.”