Rape on campus! It's a big deal! We need to make sure it stops!
In conjunction with city councilors Ayanna Pressley, Felix Arroyo, the Victim Rights Law Center, The Center for Violence Prevention & Recovery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, BARCC is holding a rally next Tuesday (4/26) at Boston City Hall to end the silence about sexual violence on college campuses. Come out if you can! You can also check out Shira's last post here to learn how you can play a role in the hearing and testimony at this rally. Boston is the higher education capital of the U.S.; with over 60 schools and colleges in about a 10 mile radius and over 150,000 college students, we have more students and schools than any other location on earth. Ensuring that the students here who - let's remember, are our neighbors, friends, perhaps partners, and colleagues - are safe is a hugely important task for the Boston City Council and for the institutions that bring those students to the city.
Now this is not an issue on which there has been no focus; the Center for Public Integrity released a long series of articles and a study last year about the high prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. The National Institute of Justice determined in a 2005 report that only about 1/3rd of college campuses were completely in compliance with federal regulations about reporting instances of sexual violence on campus, and only about half provided information to student survivors about pressing criminal charges. Amanda Hess at TBD.com has written extensively about the gap between how much sexual assault we know takes place on college campuses, and how much actually gets punished. It is not controversial to say that sexual assault happens in record numbers on college campuses, and we need to do something about it.
The "thing" the federal government has done it this in general was to pass the Clery Act in 1990. The act was named in honor of a student who was raped and killed at Lehigh University in 1986. The Clery Act requires universities to report statistics each year to the Department of Education about violent crimes that have occurred on campus, including rape. Schools that do not report their numbers can be cited and fined; if there is an egregious violation of the act or non-compliance, the school can be fined severely and threatened with the loss of Title IV financial aid monies. The Clery Act was a good start to approaching sexual violence on college campuses, but it ran directly into Mark Twain's old quote: "It’s impossible to convince a man of something if his paycheck depends on him believing the opposite." The moment schools and universities have not only no incentive to report violent crimes on campus, but an incentive to hide and obfuscate crimes on campus, we're going to run into a problem.
About a year ago, I wrote a post here likening rape and sexual assault to tactical fouling, a way of playing soccer in which one team continuously fouls the other in order to break their opponents' rhythm. It was a stretch as far as metaphors go, but the World Cup had just ended and I'm an American Soccer Fan (TM), so I hope you all forgive/forgave me for it. There was a specific component of that post, though, that has popped up again because it's relevant here. Here's the specific section of that original post that's relevant today:
The more blatant the foul, the more likely the ref is to recognize it, but even then there might be external factors preventing the ref from taking action. That was certainly the case in this final: Howard Webb, the referee, was under pressure to keep control of the game, keep the players safe, and not to “ruin” the match by throwing anyone out. He was sorely pressed, though, once he realized the Dutch were going to play the type of game they did. If he actually gave out the number of cards he should have, a lot of the Dutch players (and probably Carles Puyol, too) would have been booted from the game by the second half, and that’s a Final no one wants to see. Once he gave a Dutch player a yellow card, both that player and Webb knew that he was under too much pressure to keep the game “good” to give them another yellow card without them committing a stupidly obvious foul.
Rape is a serious crime, and most people at least pay lip service to it being a major offense. Schools and colleges are aware of that. They understand that accurately reporting the number of rapes or sexual assaults that occur within their confines will make them look like dangerous places. This is basically true, in a lot of ways: about 14% or so of college women experienced a sexual assault while in school (in the executive summary at page xiii) - any institution in which roughly one in six people will be assaulted is a dangerous place. But paradoxically, the severity of rape as a crime is what might be encouraging schools to under-report it, because they don't want the bad press that fully reporting it brings. Like a ref in a high-pressure game who is given one 'official' duty (ref the game correctly under the laws of the game) but also given another 'realistic' or 'practical' duty (make sure no one gets a red card in the World Cup final, because it'll reduce the legitimacy of the game), universities and colleges are caught in a game of what they should do by law and morality, and what they should do from a business perspective.
We see schools evading the Clery Act in real life. In 2006, Eastern Michigan University was given the largest fine ever reported under the Clery Act for failing to report a rape and murder of a student on campus. The Department of Education's report on the situation found a number of violations at EMU, including discrepancy between the university's in-house crime statistics and what it reported to the DoE, and under-reporting of sexual assaults (pg 15-19), and that it did not log the rape and murder of its student in 2006 (pg 25-26). Granted, I imagine EMU's situation was extreme, but EMU is not the only school that has sexual assault response policies that are confused and/or inefficient at least partly for the purpose of discouraging student survivors from pursuing campus disciplinary action (SaferCampus.org has a database of individual school policies on sexual assault and rape for the curious activist).
This is why policy at the governmental level that only applies a penalty, and no incentive, for reducing sexual assault and rape will never have exactly the type of effects I want it to. If a school is following progressive policies, really finding new ways to make its student body safe, and actively working to prevent sexual violence and reports really low numbers to the DoE, it'll look the same - to most people who don't have time to investigate things fully - as a school that just doesn't accurately report statistics or never kept them in the first place. Schools that are working really hard to break down bureaucratic obstacles to survivors within their walls should get some recognition, and schools that aren't need to be not only penalized, but held to the fire to get them moving.
Considering how big a population of students we've got here in Boston (larger than my hometown!), and considering how many of them may be survivors already and who did not feel like they had any access at their own institution or college to justice, we need to look at other options. Come out to the rally next Tuesday, if you can, to help us push for better options and a safer city.