Search “college” and “rape culture” and over 20,000,000 results pop up. Search just one fraternity, “Sigma Chi”, along with “rape” and 132,000 results appear. Last December, Sigma Phi Epsilon was closed indefinitely at the University of Vermont for asking “who do you want to rape?” on a survey of the young men they are supposedly training to be our country’s leaders. Vermont’s decision to close the fraternity is the exception rather than the rule. More often, little or nothing is done in response to charges of rape on campus and in fraternities.
The Obama administration is determined to do something about it. The U.S. Department of Justice just announced that it is investigating not only how the University of Montana has handled reports of sexual assault, but also the response of local law enforcement agencies—specifically Missoula, Montana’s police department and the county attorney. “Basically, this is an investigation of the entire town,” Katherine Redmond, founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, told National Public Radio. She added that, “hopefully this will sound a warning to a lot of other schools.”
That’s precisely the intention of the administration. As Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez states, sexual assault and sexual harassment “undermine women’s basic rights and, when perpetrated against students, can negatively impact their ability to lean and continue their education.” Part of the reality is that the perpetrator receives few or weak consequences and the woman ends up dropping out of school to avoid him.
I have recently been privy to such stories in Arizona. In one instance, a sorority girl was drugged and raped by a fraternity member, then continually harassed by the fraternity ‘brothers’ because she complained to university officials and the police. The university officials did nothing. The campus police did nothing. The city police did nothing. The sorority itself did nothing. The harassment went on and on. The final result? The girl left the state. In the second instance, a girl was being threatened and harassed by her ex-boyfriend, who lived down the hall from her in the same dorm. She was told by university officials that she should move out of the dorm.
I wish these were uncommon stories—but they’re not. Local police say that they receive dozens of similar complaints from co-eds every weekend. Rape, harassment, and abuse thrive on college campuses because they are allowed to by the complicity of university and local officials.
Last April, the Department of Education issued a clarification of the rules that all schools, from universities on down, must observe in the handling of sexual assault complaints. Schools must: 1) take immediate and appropriate action to investigate, 2) act promptly to end the sexual violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects even if there’s no criminal investigation, 3) protect the complainant, 4) provide a grievance procedure, 5) use the “preponderance of evidence” standard to resolve complaints (meaning that it’s more likely, rather than less likely, that it happened), 6) notify both parties of the outcome of the complaint.
The fact that the sexual assault of women has been allowed to continue unabated in our universities is a national shame. All schools are being put on notice to clean up their acts. The civil rights division of the Department of Education just announced a similar investigation of Yale University. Without a doubt, it won’t be the last.