Thursday, October 2, 2014

READING, WRITING & RAPE: A Cautionary Tale

The first time many of us became aware of college-age males abusing college age females was back in 1986, when Robert Emmet Chambers, Jr. strangled Jennifer Levin in Central Park, just behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Chambers, who would later be dubbed by the press “The Preppy Murderer” eventually admitted that Levin died while the two were engaging in rough sex in the park. Accident, said he. Not so, said the prosecution. Chambers, after pleading the charges down to manslaughter, served 15 years in prison. Some (many) say he got away with murder by not being sentenced to life in prison. (Full disclosure: He’s back in prison right now, serving a sentence for illegal drug possession and use).

Fast forward to 2010. University of Virginia student Yeardley Love was found dead in her apartment. Long story short: Her on again/off again boyfriend George Huguely was found guilty of murdering her by bashing her head against the wall of her apartment repeatedly. Both in their early 20s, and both accomplished lacrosse players, their short relationship had reportedly been volatile and possibly violent before the night Love died. Huguely, for his part, had a trouble past, some skirmishes with the law and a history of alcohol abuse. Huguely is serving a 23-year sentence.

NFL Vet John Elway and his son, John, Jr.
Now, pull yourself all the way up to 2014, when former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway’s son pulled his girlfriend from a car by her hair after an argument. He then shoved her to the ground when she tried to get back inside, causing scrapes to her knees. After that he ran from the scene and went straight to his father’s house. Elway, Jr. was charged with assault, a charge that was inexplicably later reduced to disturbing the peace. His ultimate sentence? Probation, with a year of mandatory domestic violence counseling. No jail time. No compensation for his victim. No record if he successfully completes his counseling. No accountability. I guess because the girl didn’t die like Jennifer Levin and Yeardley Love? Or maybe because his dad is universally worshipped at the altar of NFL greats. Either way, John, Jr. beat the rap, bigtime.

How much of this brand of domestic abuse is happening on and off of college campuses coast to coast is unknown. That is largely because of two things: First, many young girls do not report rape or beatings simply because they are afraid or ashamed; and, unfortunately, many academic institutions sweep these cases under the campus rug simply to safeguard their reputation and attract future students. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) reveals that 60 percent of rape victims do not report their attacks to police, and 40 percent of victims are under the age of 18.

Most disturbing is the reluctance on the part of the schools, coast to coast, to turn over their findings about these attacks to police. Even when a school’s internal investigation determines that a victim’s story is credible, the schools often bury the information or do not turn it over the police until years later. Consider the case of Sasha Menu, who was a student at the University of Missouri. In 2011, Menu checked herself into the university’s hospital. On her admittance forms, under a category that asked about sexual assault, Menu reportedly wrote “Rape/Football player.”
Sasha Menu
She also revealed she had discussed her attack with her academic advisor. The advisor denies this. She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and her parents moved her to a hospital closer to home. It was not until April of this year that the University revealed results of an independent investigation into Menu’s claims of assault, and vowed to change its policies regarding such attacks. Unfortunately, it was too little too late for Menu, who had committed suicide three years ago.

Why did it take four years for the University of Missouri to own up to its negligence?  Why is it only now that the Columbia, MO police department is investigating the attack on Menu? Could it be for the same reason that students at Columbia University filed a federal complaint earlier this year that claimed rape perpetrators and their victims are treated unequally by the school? The claim is that victims are discouraged from reporting their attacks to police, and that perpetrators are allowed to remain on campus and in school.

Demonstration at DePaul University, Chicago
Also this year, in Chicago, DePaul University students publicly accused administrators of covering up sexual assaults on campus.  Similar complaints have been lodged by students at Vanderbilt, University of North Carolina, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan University, Dartmouth, University of California at Berkeley, John Hopkins University, University of Oregon, Yale, Columbia University, Amherst University, Florida State University, – need I go on? Campus domestic violence and rape knows no geographic or economic boundaries.

Way back in 1972, Title IX, a part of Education Amendments, made it clear that any school that is awarded federal money is to be held legally liable if administrators are aware of and ignore campus sexual harassment or assault. Several current complaints lodged by student groups refer to Title IX in their statements. Further, the Clery Act of 1990 has specific requirements for universities and colleges regarding sexually violent incidents. The Clery Act also requires schools to disclose annual crime statistics.

In April of this year, the White House released new guidelines for institutions of higher education to fight the national rash of campus sexual assaults. The guidelines came from a presidential-appointed task force that revealed a startling statistic: One in five college age women are attacked on campus. One in five. If you are reading this and you have a daughter away at school, wake up please. If you have a son that you’re sending away to school, wouldn’t it make sense to pounds some good sense into him about respect for other human beings, before he has an opportunity to succumb to peer pressure? Further, the panel found that only 12 percent of these incidents are reported. If you are a victim of such an attack, speak up.

From the outside looking in, aren’t there some obvious fixes to this epidemic of campus violence? First, in many of campus rape cases, there are observers or multiple participants. Let’s train students to intervene when necessary and protect victims or potential victims. Second, the government needs
to get serious about cutting funding to Title IX entitled schools every single time a case of campus rape is proven and not acted upon by the administration. Third, campuses need to crack down on frequent incidences of binge drinking, an activity that often precedes sexual or other domestic violence. And finally, campus administrations need to quit resisting student protest groups and setting them up as adversaries. Instead, they need to listen and act upon the students’ complaints.

And once we get things straight on college campuses, some of the same steps need to be taken in the U.S. military, the American corporate system, hospitals and anywhere else gender inequality rears its head in a way that potentially foretells incidents of violence, domestic or otherwise.

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