THE LAST LAUGH: Rape is a Felony, Not an Honor Code Violation

Brave campus leaders must step up to demand reviews of their campus. policies


One of the things that makes me leap out of my desk chair screaming “I can’t freaking believe these idiots!” is when I learn that an employee or gang of them value their college or university’s image far above the well-being of a majority of their students, women.

Our Newswatch section has reported the epidemic with at least one article on campus rapes—often as many as three—for months. Sometimes it’s deliberately “misclassifying” rapes so their Clery report makes the campus look like a Disney movie set.

Other times it’s persuading the victim that she should drop her complaint—and maybe she should drop out of school as well. Or saying “boys will be boys” so its football players can continue to play.

Recent examples

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in January, four women at the University of North Carolina complained to the Office for Civil Rights that administrators had basically ignored their reports of sexual assault; a former assistant dean of students at Chapel Hill said she was pressured to reduce the number of reported offenses.

One of the women reported that her ex-boyfriend raped her. The school’s student Honor Court failed to find him guilty, but it charged her with a violation for publicly naming him, thereby “disparaging his reputation.” After public shaming, it finally dropped the charge against her.

• At Elizabeth City State University NC, student Katherine Lowe reported being raped by a former dorm security officer, but campus administrators pressured her to drop her complaint, and the campus police did nothing. He was arrested only after she reported the offense to city police. Last month a court found him guilty of sexual battery, sexual assault and breaking and entering.

Hers was one of 126 complaints that the campus police had failed to investigate since 2006, including 17 rapes. Caught with their pants down, the chancellor and police chief resigned over the allegations in May.

• At the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis MD, leaders recently agreed to reopen an investigation of a 2012 gang rape by three of its football players only after the victim hired legal counsel, so it could no longer keep the lid on it.

She had been unconscious, and learned of her rape only after the jocks were dumb and arrogant enough to brag about their “conquest” on social media. She faced military discipline while the men continued to play football. While one in five college women faces sexual assault, military academy graduates will face even worse odds. The military reported an estimated 26,000 sexual assaults in 2012—and just 238 convictions.

• At the University of Montana, sexual assault complaints led to a steeply reduced enrollment last fall. A federal investigation of mishandling rape charges by campus and city police has revealed 11 reported student rapes within 18 months. Two football players face rape charges.

• At Yale, Swarthmore, Dartmouth, UC-Berkeley, Occidental and the University of Southern California—all elite schools with top reputations—students have filed formal complaints with the U.S. Department’s Office for Civil Rights over their schools’ alleged mishandling of their reports of sexual violence and assault.

When will these numbskulls learn that a campus is neither equipped nor inclined to investigate charges of sexual assault—commonly known as rape?

As former Penn State President Grant Spanier pointed out while Jerry Sandusky was raping little boys in the athletic department’s showers, the only downside is the risk of what happens if somebody finds out?

His taking the risk has cost Penn State a measurable $45.8 million by the end of March, not including a $60 million NCAA fine and the services of at least four top recruits who decided not to play for Penn State.

Steps to end the epidemic of rape

Brave campus leaders must step up to demand reviews of their campus policies on reporting and handling sexual assaults to make sure that women are protected. Kudos to President Biddy Martin at Amherst, who immediately faced the issue and worked for change. Under the gun, University of North Caroline System Chancellor Tom Ross last month announced a campus initiative to assure that sexual assault cases receive the attention they deserve. Let’s hope he’s serious and not just grandstanding for investigators.

Administrators need to realize that rape is a felony, not an Honor Code violation. Trained law enforcement professionals— not students or Keystone cops or PR types or administrators—need to investigate every case. Take rape charges out of student affairs and directly to the police.

Penalties must be swift and sure. Today’s epidemic of rape is reaching a crescendo. Rapists have stalked the campus at will for too long. Women are reporting them and expecting results. The Office for Civil Rights is targeting elite schools to underscore its seriousness, a good strategy.

Like those who thumb their noses at Title IX, schools should not be able to walk away simply by agreeing to change their policies. Assessing major fines could fund a nationwide initiative to help campus rapists’ victims start to heal.

We need to create a One Million Women Against Rape Fund, to help victims to hire lawyers and sue the schools that refuse to take rape seriously. Perhaps we could raise one million dollars in seed money.

Those who advocate the rusty machete solution to convicted rapists need to chill a bit, and allow good people to work at changing the culture of violence against women, of which campus rape is a part.

One way or another, women are eroding the rape culture that has persisted for thousands of years. We are sure to get the last laugh—if we live long enough.

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