Thursday, September 04, 2014

Light punishments, heavy mattresses, and lawsuits: Campus sexual assault round-up

There have been a few stories over the past week or so about campus sexual assault that deserve a mention.
One that has been making the rounds in the press and on social media is the story of a Columbia University student who is protesting the fact that her assailant is still on campus by carrying around a mattress wherever she goes. This story has been picked up by multiple outlets and is about a student who has been part of Columbia's very vocal group of activists who have protested the way the university has handled reports of sexual assault. Emma Sulkowicz is the mattress-carrier. It is protest but it is also art. She is calling it Mattress Performance or Carry that Weight and it is her senior thesis. Read the piece on HuffPo for a description of the project and its meanings. We have seen some creative means of protest during this national movement, examples of students taking control when they feel their schools have failed them and making sure the issues remain in the public and community eye. Sulkowicz is also the student who, even though her rape occurred several years ago now, went to the police to file charges at the end of last semester feeling that she had to do something when the university did not. She will carry the mattress around, she said, until he leaves campus--either of his own accord or because of university action.

University of North Carolina is facing lawsuits from victims of sexual assault. In one, a student is claiming the university mishandled her complaint. from the facts provided, it seems they didn't handle it all with the complaint being lost in one administrator's inbox for weeks before he told the victim he was passing it on to another administrator who met with the victim and then passed it on to someone else who never got in touch with her. There was failure to follow through with the victim who was told things were a little confusing because the university was in the process of revising its policies. She left the school, but pursued the case and UNC eventually began an investigation which took far too long and was plagued by other issues.

The reasons behind OCR's investigation of University of Kansas which was announced in the middle of the summer have been revealed. A student who was raped by someone who admitted not stopping sexual activity when the woman asked for him to do so filed a complaint about the university's handling of her case. The woman, who went to a party with her assailant and who walked her home because she was intoxicated, actually went to the police first who spoke to the assailant who admitted his actions. Local officials have refused to pursue a criminal case despite the confession and have threatened the victim with charges of underage drinking if she pursued the case. She then went to university officials who did investigate the case but found not rape but "nonconsenual sex" had occurred.  (This post on Feministing takes to task this and other euphemisms for rape.)
The university banned the assailant from campus housing, had him write a reflective essay, and required he go to counseling. They considered required community service but felt it would be too much punishment. They told the student, who appealed the light punishment, that his sanctions were in accordance with university policy. Could be true, but that doesn't mean the policy--for which university administrators are responsible--is a good one. That is what OCR will assess.

Light punishments are also at the center of two other complaints. A graduate of UC Santa Barbara filed a complaint in response to her rape. The university basically offered a pleas deal to her male assailant saying that he could agree to a two-term suspension or go through an investigation which could result in his expulsion. He chose the suspension, but was allowed to complete the term and his finals. And because the victim was graduating, he was actually allowed back to campus after only three months.
A University of Toledo graduate filed a complaint after her assailant who admitted that he heard her say she didn't want to have sex received probation, a $25 fine, and mandatory sexual assault education totaling ten hours.