According to recently publicized studies, 20 percent of college women are sexually assaulted or raped during their time on campus. Needless to say 20 percent of campus men don’t end up standing trial for such crimes.
Yes, it’s a he-said, she-said crime that’s hard to prove. Yes, false accusations by vindictive, venal or unstable women do occur. And yes, there can be a gray area between consent and refusal, particularly when the use of alcohol or other state-altering substances are involved. But 20 percent is a lot of smoke for there to be so little fire.
In fact, there’s something approaching a conspiracy of silence aimed at tamping down any serious acknowledgment of and attack on the problem. Universities don’t like to admit such things happen on their campus. Bad for fund-raising, recruitment and just generally not the sort of publicity any institution seeks.
If college athletes are involved, as seems so often to be the case, there’s an even bigger incentive on the part of the school to hush up accusations before they can turn into costly scandals. Even when steps are taken, the punishment rarely fits the crime; sitting out a game or two or perhaps a semester of suspension. Do coaches not have daughters?
Absurdly, adjudicating the matter is often left to the athletic department which has an obvious vested interest in finding its boys not guilty. Even if the case comes before higher campus authority, campus cops and administrators are clearly ill-equipped to conduct professional and impartial investigations even if they didn’t have a glaring conflict of interest.
It is impossible to imagine that a similar crime taking place in a business or other public institution would be handled internally rather than referred to law enforcement and prosecutors. Only the church equals colleges in being allowed to self-police and we all know how well that works.
Many of the cases that have come to light in recent studies have been so blatant as to suggest the failure to prosecute can only have been the result of willful blindness, neanderthal preconceptions or embarrassing incompetence.
On a PBS NewsHour report, a Chapel Hill rape victim told how she was counseled to treat the experience like a loss in a football game, to dust herself off and figure out what she did wrong. Wow! This is the mindset at an allegedly great university, to assume the victim not the perpetrator is the one in the wrong?
In other publicized cases, the rapes have been public and recorded by spectators treating them not as reasons to dial 911 but as a form of entertainment to be posted online. Clearly barbarism has invaded the academy and shame attaches to administrators, professors, police and prosecutors who don’t treat such cases not as youthful hijinks but as felonies worthy of a long stretch in prison.
In a rare show of bipartisanship, Sen. Kelly Ayote (R-NH) has joined Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in sponsoring legislation that would inflict serious financial penalties on schools that don’t investigate all rape allegations.
It’s sad that hitting colleges in the pocketbook seems to be the only way to get their attention. Obviously the claims of morality, equity and justice have produced scant results. But there’s little hope that the bill will advance. At last count it had eight co-sponsors suggesting 90 percent of senators could care less. One can only imagine the reception such legislation will get in the even more primitive House.
What is to be done in the absence of any willingness to treat crimes against college women as crimes? Do coeds need to come to campus having taken not just their SATs but a course in how to fire a gun and incapacitate an attacker swiftly and painfully? Before a woman can become a scholar, does she first need to have acquired the lethal skills of a Navy Seal? Perhaps so, since the Groves of Academe appear to have turned into the forest primeval.