Friday, May 30, 2014

TIME focuses on campus sexual assault

The May 15 issue of TIME magazine devotes considerable attention to campus sexual assault and the reaction to the activism that has resulted from increased awareness and demands for justice. Alas, you cannot access all the articles online without a subscription. But the magazine addresses many aspects of the issue.
In the piece "The Sexual Assault Crisis on American Campuses," (subscription needed) Eliza Gray points out to anyone who does not yet know that the rate of sexual assault on college campuses is much greater than previously reported. (Many people knew--anyone who ever attended Take Back the Night knew the stats--fewer people paid attention.) But the idea that a school with 80 reported sexual assaults a year, like University of Montana, which opens the story, is a "rape capital" and somehow unusual is a quickly falling myth.
Another piece in the issue, penned by attorney Gloria Allred, is calling this current moment of activism against campus sexual assault "one of the most important civil rights movements of our time." I agree. It has been fascinating and inspiring to watch from the periphery this widespread movement of young women, especially as some of us who are a little older continue to argue that we are not in the era of postfeminism and that we still need to be actively engaged in fighting gender, race, class, age, size, ability discrimination.
The president of Dartmouth College, which has been one of the hotbeds of activism, also wrote a piece for the issue. Philip Hanlon focused on prevention and intervention. It is a brief piece in which he mentions the establishment of the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative meant to educate the campus community and the upcoming conference Dartmouth is hosting in July which will bring together leaders across the country to talk about prevention.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who recently made a push to fund more employees at the Office of Civil Rights for the purpose of investigating complaints around campus sexual assault, added to the issue by advocating for more reporting and greater transparency.
Joe Biden wrote a little blip about putting the force of the White House behind this initiative.
Actress Mariska Hargitay writes about ending the violence by shifting blame off of victims.
In a one-of-these-is-not-like-the-others moment, Christina Hoff Sommers of the American enterprise Institute, ever the defender of the boys, is worried about what she sees as the mounting false accusations against college men and the "kangaroo court justice" she believes they are subject to. She gives a list of seven men who are challenging the rulings of their respective schools against them. She notes that it is only a partial list. I wonder how that list compares to a list of women whose reports were ignored or delayed or whose assailants were never or only marginally punished. There is no perfect system. The systems that exist right now amidst this rape culture that Sommers seems to sneer at undoubtedly favor men. Every man? No. As a group? Yes. Are there systems to address false accusations? Yes. The men who have taken their cases to the legal system are utilizing them.
In a similar vein, Matthew Kaiser, a defense attorney who has represented several of the men challenging the punishments from their institutions, writes that many of the consent laws are unfair to men. He focuses on the role of alcohol and the ambiguous situations created when individuals have been drinking. Like Sommers, he takes the few cases he has seen and makes generalizations that cannot be supported. He also suggests that the Department of Education is compelling schools to automatically take the side of a female victim or face sanctions. I think the hundreds of women who have filed complaints would take exception to this notion.
Caitlin Flanagan, who recently wrote a very good piece about fraternities for the Atlantic, calls for more transparency about and attention to the sexual assault that occurs at fraternities. In a disturbing example of exactly what rape culture is, Flanagan reports that built into fraternity budgets are the costs of insurance claims made against fraternities every year for sexual assault. She also points out of one the gaps in the recently released federal guidelines: there is nothing that mandates the public reporting of where assaults take place, thus no way to tell the campus community which fraternities have a problem with sexual assault.