Amherst Rape Scandal: What We Get Wrong About Sexual Assault on Campus

This is my TIME.com column today on the complex issues around sexual assault on college campuses. There’s much more I wanted to say – and will say, later, on this blog — but for now:

The recent media swarm around an anguished report of rape at Amherst College, in Massachusetts, is understandable, especially when every day seems to bring another grotesque proclamation from a political figure appearing to minimize, or even justify, rape. But the gravity of sexual assault shouldn’t be an excuse to draw black-and-white conclusions about the problem of rape on college campuses.

Most rapes are hard to prosecute, in part because they rarely have witnesses, but college rapes on college campuses are an even bigger challenge because at least 90% of alleged rapes are between people who know each other (often boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, or current friends and acquaintances). College rapes also typically involve less physical evidence (like signs of physical struggle), and one or both parties are more likely to be intoxicated by alcohol, often making it hard for the alleged victim and assailant to recall or report a clear story. College-rape survivors sometimes delay reporting rape, as the Amherst survivor did, until they have concluded that they were in fact raped — an ambiguity that is much less common in the general population.

As an educator and college administrator who has worked firsthand with students involved in sexual-assault cases, I applaud Amherst’s call to respond more sensitively to rape victims. Nonetheless, universities must ensure due process to protect the rights of all students, including those who are accused of rape. Those who fault Amherst administrators for not doing enough in response to Angie Epifano’s allegations are missing a key fact: most college sexual-assault allegations would never meet the standard for criminal prosecution and, indeed, do not wind up in the criminal-justice system. With their judicial boards and other disciplinary infrastructure, universities generally take rape allegations more seriously, not less seriously, than in the world beyond their ivy walls…

Continued: http://ideas.time.com/2012/10/31/amherst-rape-scandal-what-we-get-wrong-about-sexual-assault-on-campus/#ixzz2Asz2LwPy

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director and Harvard College house master/some-time journalist. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
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8 Responses to Amherst Rape Scandal: What We Get Wrong About Sexual Assault on Campus

  1. Jef says:

    Ms. Christakis,
    I just read the piece you wrote concerning the Sexual Assault at Amherst College. I can’t agree with enough here you hit every nail on the head. There’re plenty of studies out there that back up your information on the use of alcohol, stranger Vs non-stranger attacks and how and why the type of attack impacts the victims descision to report the attack. This is an issue that all colleges across the country need to address the problem is that most colleges focus most of their attention on what potential victims should do or steps they should take to prevent from becoming a victim. Some of the information isn’t bad and conducting risk assessment isn’t a bad thing. The problem with these type of prevention campaigns it really never addresses the real problem, identifying and correcting the behavior of the potential offender.

    Since most college student are between the ages of 17-25 what’s going on in these colleges is closely related to what’s going on in the U S Army. Most of the sexual assaults involve alcohol, soldiers between ages of 17-25, most victims know their attacker, most attack happen in dorms, both have fraternities or all male groups. Also as you pointed out what many colleges consider sexual assault many states wouldn’t even it give it a second look this is also true for the entire Department of Defense.

    The U S Army has started a new program called the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Program (SHARP), one of the major things this program focus teaching it leaders and soldiers on how to identify potentialoffenders by identifying those behaviors/actions/methods that offends use and display. This program also focus on teach leader and soldiers (both Male and female) on how to identify inappropriate behaviors that may lead to sexual harassment or sexual assault and how to intervene to stop the event/attack from happening.

    Jeff

  2. Peter says:

    I truly do not understand Amherst’s previous responses. The kind of behavior that the male students exhibited would not be tolerated in a workplace, and would draw the harshest criticism in the general public. When there were allegations of sexual harassment in one environment I worked in, the two individuals were separated immediately. Why would any school not implement similar policies? I’m surprised that colleges are truly so benign to concerns of rape or, in the case of James Holmes, mental illness.

    I wish to ask for clarification. You wrote: “College-rape survivors sometimes delay reporting rape, as the Amherst survivor did, until they have concluded that they were in fact raped.” Why is this a difficult determination? How long does it take? I’m concerned about the phrasing because a woman might decide after the fact that the sex was unwilling (or as one friend put it, having “buyer’s remorse”).

    • Peter says:

      Let me clarify my last sentence: it SEEMS that a woman could be consenting to sex, then later deciding she wasn’t really.

      • Jef says:

        Peter,
        When the victim knows the offender many of them go through a self blaming phase. There was a study not to long ago by Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital (I believe) They studied 1000 Sexual Assault victims and recorded how long it took them to report the assault. They found that those victims that didn’t know their attacker (stranger type assaults) reported the sexual assault within 24 hrs of the incident. For those that knew their attacker (non Stranger type of assaults) many of them took up to 2 weeks to report the assault. This was due to the self blaming phase.

  3. Jef says:

    As for consenting, since most sexual assaults in a college setting involve alcohol. You must ask yourself if someone is drunk or under the influence of drugs, passed out or sleeping, is it possible give consent?

    • Peter says:

      I’m not familiar with the self-blaming phase, so I’ll do more research on that. That’s very enlightening, though also troubling since rapes are typically expected to be reported in 24 hours by those who aren’t familiar with them.

      I KNOW it’s impossible to give consent if a person is drunk/mentally incapacitated/etc. I needed additional clarity, which you provided. So thank you!

  4. Jef says:

    Peter
    Self Blaming- isn’t really a phase it’s more of a Pysychological Effect. I refer to it as a phase because in my expeirences about 8 out 10 victims go through it. You can tie this effect directly to how society looks at and deals with sexual assault. They’re a lot of people out there that because of their up bringing, culture, socialization want to hold the victim of sexual assault entirely or partially responsible. I also found that the closer the relation between victim and offender the victim blaming is more severe. this is because of the violation of trust,respect, love, family…

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