Students and anti-violence advocates gathered in Washington DC recently to protest the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. Led by a group known as “ED ACT NOW,” protesters demanded that federal oversight agencies such as the DOE and DOJ provide more and better enforcement of women’s rights under Title IX – a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination “based on sex,” the most severe expression of which is sexual assault.
It’s good for students to gather in solidarity and to mobilize around important issues, but last week’s protest was geographically misplaced. They should have been protesting at places like Harvard and Princeton and UVA; schools that refuse to respect women and effectively enforce women’s civil rights on campus. The protest fell flat not only because students were at the wrong place, but also because they failed to demand the immediate repeal of a dangerous new law known as Campus SaVE.
Either the students didn’t know what they were doing, or the leadership behind their protest misled them intentionally to waste their time.
Maybe the problem lies in the fact that the leaders came from Harvard and Harvard will benefit greatly from the enactment of Campus SaVE. Officials at the prestigious institution don’t take kindly to the public knowing that they have been in hot water with the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education for years, and are still under investigation in a case that was opened by OCR at the DOE against Harvard in 2010 because of their refusal to comply with Title IX and respect women’s equality on campus. Once Campus SaVE takes effect in early 2014, Harvard can claim NOT to be in violation of Title IX even though the DOE issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” in 2011 in connection with its investigation of Harvard, making clear that Harvard was violating Title IX. Lucky for Harvard that Congress came along within days of the “Dear Colleague Letter” and proposed a bill to undermine the “Dear Colleague Letter” and ALLOW Harvard to violate Title IX on exactly the issues for which it was then under investigation. Double-lucky for Harvard that a federal statute trumps a “Letter.” Curious minds wonder whether folks at Harvard had a hand in drafting Campus SaVE, or whether it was just good timing that a new law came along right when Harvard needed protection from public criticism – and authority to continue to violate women’s civil rights with impunity.
If student protesters really want to be effective, they should be working to get the word out about which schools supported Campus SaVE, and/or are stubbornly refusing to comply with Title IX, such as Harvard and Princeton. This information is important to parents who are thinking about where to send their daughters to college. All moms and dads need to understand the reasons why some schools are so much safer for girls than others.
Students who really care about rape on campus should be saying something like this:
“Many parents will spend this summer contemplating their high school graduate’s move to university life. It’s a time of mixed emotions and the angst of separation as moms and dads wistfully reminisce about how quickly little Mary went from toddler to young woman. Every trip to the beach will evoke old memories of swimmy arms and sunscreen. After the dutiful drop-off at freshman orientation, Mom and Dad won’t be around to protect Mary from the sun – or anything else.
The greatest threat to Mary’s well-being will involve alcohol, rape-drugs and sexual assault. One in four students will be victimized, probably during freshman year. College women are more likely to be attacked than women who do not go to college, which is particularly disturbing given that civil rights laws (Title IX and Title IV) provide extra protection against sexual assault on campus compared to laws in the real world.
University administrators bear much of the blame because they often discourage reporting and retaliate against victims who speak up. Elite schools are among the worst because they have more to lose, especially if a scandal erupts. They also face the loss of alumni donations if, as is often the case, the offender is the son of a somebody. Victims just don’t have the same legacy value at universities where women have only (relatively) recently been admitted. Preservation of male entitlement is in the water at schools where the ivy grows long. Administrators raise a wet finger to the wind to test whether it’s “worth it” to punish a student rapist, and let’s just say there’s rarely any breeze blowing in favor of the victim.
For $50,000 a year, Mary’s parents have a right to expect that their child will be safe, and that if Mary is victimized, she will be believed and her attacker will be punished. But Mary’s parents will be shocked when they learn the ugly truth and suffer their own feelings of betrayal as they realize officials care more about money than their little girl.
If Mary is assaulted, she will probably quit school after being told that her word is not “good enough.” She will try to hold her head high and act like she is OK, but she will struggle in an environment where the man who raped her is walking around carefree while her life becomes mired in despair. The school that was once the crowning achievement of Mary’s hard work and dedication will soon become a cold and unwelcoming institution in which the brutal violation of a young woman’s rights to autonomy and bodily integrity will be chalked up to an “unfortunate incident” and “bad sex.”
Victims don’t matter very much at places like Harvard and Princeton, both of which are under federal investigation for allegedly violating women’s civil rights under Title IX because of the way they handle sexual assaults. In fact, they have the ignoble status of being the only two schools in the nation with policies that effectively declare the word of a woman PER SE less valuable than the word of a man.”
Student protesters presumably are aware of longstanding problems at the University of Virginia where a student named Yeardley Love was brutally murdered on campus by another student a few years ago, and where many students and their families have complained for years about the university’s hostile environment for women.
UVA is currently under compliance review and federal investigation because of the alleged actions of a UVA nurse named Kathryn Laughon who is accused of changing a rape victim’s medical record to falsely reflect that the victim suffered no injuries after being drugged and raped by a repeat offender. This same nurse took dozens of photographs of the victim’s internal injuries using a special dye and catheterization to ensure that the injuries would be visible in the photos, but when the victim’s family asked for copies, UVA officials said the photos did not exist.
A hearing board assigned to determine whether to punish the perpetrator ruled against the victim on the grounds that there were “no injuries.” They were never shown the photos of the injuries that were taken using special dye. The nurse who allegedly “lost” the photographs is responsible for nearly all UVA rape cases and, interestingly, UVA has not expelled a single student for rape in more than a decade.
Parents who think their daughters are safe at schools where SAT scores are high and acceptance rates are low are kidding themselves. And things are only going to get worse because elite schools just spent a fortune on lobbyists who got Congress to pass a new federal law called Campus SaVE that will give them even more power to silence victims and protect offenders after SaVE takes effect in early 2014. In particular, SaVE allows schools to assign less weight to the word of a woman compared to that of men when assessing credibility in a hearing to determine whether a sex offender on campus should be disciplined for violating a woman’s civil rights. SaVE also allows schools to “run out the clock” on victims’ complaints such that administrators don’t have to make a final decision about whether a victim’s civil rights were violated until the virtual eve of her graduation. This well-practiced delay tactic enables schools to avoid federal oversight and accountability because the victim will be gone from campus by the time she realizes the school denied her fair justice by failing to enforce Title IX’s mandate that complaints be resolved with “promptness” and “equity.” Neither of these tactics was lawful before the enactment of Campus SaVE yet protesters said not a word about the law, which raises interesting issues about who is guiding the students and whether their interests lie with the schools rather than the students. Either way, protesters missed an important opportunity last week to demand the repeal of SaVE before the sexist and offensive bill takes effect in a few months.
The next time students decide to protest, they should focus their energies on parents and advise especially those sending young women headed off to elite schools not to be sad that their little girl is leaving home, but to be very afraid of where she’s going.