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October 16, 2013

Big Shame on Campus

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Critical of how their cases of rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment were handled on campus, these six woman lodged Title IX or Clery Act complaints with the U.S. Department of Education against their schools. Clark (bottom right) and Pino (middle left) have since started the nonprofit End Rape on Campus to assist campus activists filing similar complaints.

From top left to right: Grace Peter, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Kylie Angell, University of Connecticut; Annie Clark, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Tucker Reed, University of Southern California; Hope Brian, Swarthmore College; Andrea Pino, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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This stunning lack of urgency on the part of schools prompted the Obama administration to try to spur college leaders to take these crimes more seriously. In April 2011, OCR sent college administrators nationwide a 19-page "Dear Colleague" letter to more clearly spell out what is expected of them. "It's too easy for sexual violence to exist in the shadows and behind closed doors," says John DiPaolo, deputy assistant secretary for policy at OCR. "It's really unique and extraordinary in a terrible way that there's that level of sexual violence going on in places where otherwise things are relatively safe. What if that were the case with general assault or robberies at gunpoint? It would just be unthinkable." The letter directed universities to resolve cases promptly (typical investigations should take about 60 days) and use the "preponderance of evidence" standard of proof (i.e., if it's more likely than not that an assault occurred, the school must respond). The letter also reminded schools of their obligation under Title IX to protect the victim during the investigation, which may mean rearranging class schedules and dorm assignments, or removing the accused student from the school altogether so the victim is not forced to regularly encounter her assailant.

But writing down what should happen doesn't mean it's actually happening. "We have policies, we have very pretty words, but implementation is lacking," says Clark. College administrators have an incentive—as perverse as it is—to silence rape allegations. Keeping the college's reputation untarnished is the foremost concern in order to keep the number of applicants consistent and the alumni dollars flowing—the stuff of glossy campus brochures. "Colleges have a lot of financial pressure to not tell the truth about rape and sexual assault on campus," says Caroline Heldman, Ph.D., chair of the politics department at Occidental College, who is among the 37 faculty, students, and alumni who filed Title IX and Clery Act complaints against the liberal arts school in April, alleging that the administration covered up rapes and improperly reported and adjudicated sexual assaults. "[Administrators] go to great lengths to hide or underreport the issue." Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security on Campus, a nonprofit that works to prevent campus crime, agrees that many college officials worry about the fallout from transparency, a disturbingly misguided concern. "There's an undeniable fear that if we talk about this, we're going to have to respond more," she says. "Some administrators are concerned with having to explain the higher numbers." Kiss says prospective students and parents should view a high number of reported sexual assaults as a possible sign that the school has created an environment where victims feel comfortable coming forward and confident they will get help. "I've seen universities get out in front of it when they've developed a new sexual assault response team or educational program that is likely to result in more reporting," she says. "They say, 'We're going to let people know that how we deal with sexual assault is a priority for us.'"

But for every institution forced to take an unvarnished look at its policies and procedures in the face of a scandal, there is another pretending its campus is immune. The cold reality is, 1 in 5 college women will be the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault during her four years of school, as opposed to 1 in 6 of all American women in their lifetime—and colleges are not doing enough to change the culture of sexual violence on campus. "People think it probably involved alcohol and that there was a lack of clear communication about consent. There's a sense that it was a mistake, an accident," says David Lisak, Ph.D., a forensic consultant who has studied rape and sexual assault since the 1980s. "Those kinds of assaults do occur, but they're a small minority." Lisak's research shows almost two-thirds of college rapists rape more than once, which explains why repeat rapists account for 9 out of every 10 rapes on college campuses. Yet only 10 to 25 percent of students found responsible for sexual assault at college are expelled, according to the Center for Public Integrity. (It's not any better in the criminal justice system—only about 3 percent of rapists serve prison time, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.) "I don't particularly like phrasing it this way, but in a purely statistical sense, a college campus is a pretty safe place to commit a sexual assault from the perspective of a rapist. Your odds of having anything serious happen to you are really, really small," Lisak says. (An August article on TheAtlantic.com delves into how to encourage more college women victims to report sex crimes; a startling 95 percent never do.) "There's simply no way that an institution can respond effectively when the assumptions on which it's creating its policies are really off the mark," says Lisak.

Those misguided policies often mean college women can't find the information or support they need. Once the UNC women went public with their complaint, they were inundated with calls, e-mails, Facebook messages, and tweets from college women from across the country. "They'd say, 'This is happening at my school, too, what do I do?'" says Clark, who, along with her friend Andrea Pino, has become an unofficial leader of the group. Clark and Pino, a 21-year-old UNC senior political science major who was raped at an off-campus party, field calls at all hours and help students file complaints and craft media plans. They also started a private Facebook group as a sort of virtual command center. "They'll say, 'Hey, my case is going through the adjudication process—give me advice on this' or 'How can I talk to my parents about PTSD?'" Clark says. "It's ridiculously active with hundreds of people helping and supporting each other."

At the time her complaint was filed, Clark was living in Eugene, Oregon, working as an administrator at the University of Oregon, and had turned her one-bedroom apartment into a "survivor hostel" of sorts, where victims of sexual assault from colleges across the U.S. came to get away. The women kept track of all the schools they were building cases against on walls covered in butcher paper, sections of which were devoted to self-expression—song lyrics, pictures, or astonishing tone-deaf comments they'd heard when reporting their rapes. Clark has since left her job, and Pino took a semester off from school. They moved to Los Angeles over the summer and helped start the nonprofit End Rape on Campus (EROC). There, they and five other women who filed complaints against their universities provide free support as others do the same. They are also involved in a group known as Know Your IX, which educates college students about their rights under Title IX. Someday soon, they hope to start a more formal survivor hostel for students who can intern for the organizations. "If you asked me a year ago whether I would be trying to start a national movement, I would have said, 'What are you talking about?'" says Clark. "You're dealing with people who are going through hell and administrators who aren't doing anything, so trying to figure out how to best support everyone and also take care of yourself is hard." For Carolyn Luby, a 22-year-old University of Connecticut senior who was sexually harassed, the group has filled a hole. "In feeling hopeless and unsupported by our schools, we found support in each other," says Luby. "And while that's great, that's not the way it should be."


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