As I decide where I want to go to college, I have questioned things I never thought I would be concerned about during the college process, that is, sexual assault.
Campus rapes and sexual assaults seem to increase annually at some universities because of a lack of support for victims and a desire for the institutions to uphold a good public image.
The schools’ inaction to enforce stricter policies to eliminate sexual violence and harassment on campus violates the federal civil rights law Title IX.
Congress enacted Title IX, the equal education law, in 1972, to forbid discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or athletic activities that receive federal funding. The law was initially known for increasing athletic opportunities for women, but on April 4, 2011, the Department of Education emphasized that Title IX is also meant to protect all students, including athletes, from sexual violence.
According to the law, sex discrimination includes sexual harassment, sexual battery, sexual assault and rape that are “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.”
I value equal education for women and men, yet what I consistently hear on the news about sexual violence on campuses shows that Title IX is still not being implemented at all colleges. Women are the victims of this non-compliance.
In 2014, Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University in New York City, retaliated against the school administration through her ongoing senior thesis Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight. Sulkowicz continues to carry her mattress around campus as a form of protest art against Columbia’s violation of Title IX for the dismissal of her rape case. She pledges to carry the mattress until she graduates in May.
In her sophomore year, Sulkowicz was raped by a “friend” in her dorm room; she did not report it until a year after the incident.
Indeed, campus rape is a largely under reported crime because victims are embarrassed, afraid or blame themselves for the assault.
“I was upset and confused… I wanted to have a talk with him to try to understand why he would hit me, strangle me and anally penetrate me without my consent,” Sulkowicz told .Mic, a media company that focuses on news that concern young people.
Sulkowicz was wrong to try and contact her alleged rapist, Paul Nungesser, because he used it against her in his testimony at the hearing on campus.
Sex offenders are skilled at rationalizing their own behavior and pushing the blame on their victims. Nungesser showed this demeanor when he defended himself in the Daily Beast article “Columbia Student: ‘I didn’t rape her’,” and claimed he and Sulkowicz maintained a cordial friendship on Facebook after the “consensual” incident.
Although Nungesser’s name matched that in two other rape cases, he was allowed back onto campus.
After the administration dismissed her rape case, she filed a complaint with NYPD following her finals in May 2014. But police also dismissed the case because she had no physical evidence and did not remember specific details of the attack, such as what shoes Nungesser was wearing.
In her 2014 opinion piece “My Rapist is still on campus” on Time’s website, Sulkowicz claimed that the Columbia administration did not expel her assaulter because it was “more concerned about their public image than keeping people safe.”
Columbia is not the only university currently in the spotlight for violating Title IX. The documentary, The Hunting Ground, which is currently in theaters and will broadcast on CNN this spring, has focused on how colleges such as Harvard, Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have dealt with cases of rape within the fraternity system. The film reveals how some fraternities, specifically Sigma Alpha Epsilon, breed hyper masculine peer norms and sexual aggression in students, and also shows how many rape allegations against college football players are ignored to not taint the athlete’s reputation.
In 2006, when Mark Sanchez was 19 years old and playing back-up quarterback for USC, he was arrested for the alleged sexual assault of a female USC student.
Police and USC dropped the case when prosecutors decided the medical examinations of the alleged victim and Sanchez were ambiguous on the “issue of force,” according to ESPN.
Several months after the allegation, Sanchez was rewarded a starting job his junior season, and in 2009 the NFL draft picked him fifth overall.
Sanchez told New York Daily News that the experience “taught me so much especially without having any of the consequences because they weren’t deserved. It was crazy. It’s really only been the only blemish on my record.”
Last year, UCLA, San Diego State, UC Berkeley, Cal State Chico and 76 other universities were under investigation for violations against Title IX in their handling of sexual misconduct cases, but the Education Department found that UCLA did handle cases of sexual violence adequately.
According to UCLA Newsroom, more sexual assaults are reported at UCLA than any other school of the same size, but this does not necessarily make it unsafe.
Officials did discover that the counseling center at UCLA had too little staff who were not trained properly to aid victims of sexual assault, nor did UCLA publicize available resources to help victims.
Last fall, UCLA started a task force on sexual assault and posted information about where to receive help in every restroom stall at the school, according to the Los Angeles Times article “UCLA under investigation for handling of sex misconduct cases.”
As a result of the improvements, women on campus feel comfortable to speak up and report sexual assault.
Dartmouth College had such a bad reputation for mistreating victims of sexual assault that activists demanded reform during admit week, causing applications to drop by 14% last year, according to Bloomberg Business.
Dartmouth plans this year to ban hard alcohol for students living on campus and has enforced a four-year sexual-violence prevention program, according to the Times article “Dartmouth College bans hard alcohol on campus as part of reforms.”
It is not too late to stop sexual violence on all college campuses for future generations of students.
The campaign “It’s On Us,” created last year by a White House task force, encourages everyone to stop sexual assault if they see it on campus.
UCLA students have shown support for the campaign and have created a photo project seen on the Buzzfeed article “13 Reasons Sexual Assault Is ‘On Us,’ According to college students.” The campaign hopes universities and students will “create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.
One of the things I ask when I tour a college now is about campus safety—is it a dangerous school for women?
I believe questions like mine will initiate a chain reaction and student guides will report these inquiries to the administration. Hopefully, it will force them to see how cases of sexual assault and rape will affect prospective students’ decisions to attend.