Fighting with the Sky

Archive for the ‘Sexual Assault’ Category

The treatment of sexual assault by universities makes me sick.  In 2006, Eastern Michigan University (EMU) refused to tell the family of a young woman who was raped and murdered by another student what actually happened to her.  They lead the family to believe that their daughter died of natural causes until they had finished their investigation 10 week later. And now Notre Dame refuses to prosecute one of their football players who was accused of sexually assaulting a student at their sister school, St. Mary’s College, who later killed herself because her charges weren’t taken seriously.  And I’ve heard numerous stories when the University finds the accused student responsible, the sanctions are weak and do nothing to prevent future assaults.  I can’t remember the last time that I heard about a university handling a sexual assault case well.

Sexual assault falls under Title IX requirements of universities to prevent sex discrimination.  Universities are supposed to make “effective” efforts when a sexual assault report is made.  But, this often doesn’t happen.

It often seems like universities are more concerned about the needs of the accused than taking sexual assault charges seriously.  Universities don’t want to deny the accused student their right to an education.  But if they are a rapist, they have no place on campus.

Unfortunately, universities do not see it that way.  Rape culture and rape myths are deeply ingrained into university procedures.  Because underage drinking happens a lot on college campuses, if a woman has been drinking they are not seen as the “perfect” victim and universities do not want to punish the accused student unless they committed sexual assault against the “perfect” victim where there is no doubt that the student KNEW that they were committing sexual assault.  But rapists are so manipulative of the system that they can often convince a court/university that they had no idea that the woman was not consensual even if they did.  And usually they did.  It’s pretty easy to tell if someone isn’t consensual.

Because young women know that their colleges do not take sexual assault charges seriously, less women are likely to report their assault or seek help from campus organizations.  While reporting is definitely not a necessary step in recovery, some women who would have reported the assault are discouraged by the practices that they see on campus.  And because some students do not understand that seeking help from awareness and prevention organizations on campus does not require an official report, they are hesitant to even seek help.

If you are a college student, I encourage you to look at your college’s sexual assault policy to see how your college handles sexual assault charges.  Also, take a look at SAFER’s Campus Accountability Project and Winter Break Challenge.  Challenge your college’s officials to take charges of sexual assault seriously.


This past Tuesday, Virginia Representative Tom Perriello introduced the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (Campus SaVE Act).  This act will majorly revamp the Campus Sexual Assault Victim’s Bill of Rights and is a much needed update to federal policy.  The Campus SaVE Act will be a step closer to more comprehensive guidelines for universities when responding to sexual violence.

The Campus SaVE Act will:

  • Expands the list of offenses that must be covered in a campus sexual assault policy to include “sex offenses and other intimate partner violence, including stalking, dating violence, sexual violence, and domestic violence offenses.”
  • Mandates primary prevention programming that includes defining consent and bystander intervention training (!!!) and awareness education that includes instructions for how to report offenses that occur on OR off campus
  • States that victims will be provided with full explanations of their options for health, mental health, and legal resources both on and off campus, as well as their right to involve local police or campus security AND how they can obtain a restraining order/order of protection/no contact order.
  • Requires that all disciplinary proceedings must be “conducted by officials trained to understand the issues of sex offenses and other intimate partner violence.”

While there are still a lot of steps that could be taken by the federal government and by individual universities, the Campus SaVE Act is an exciting piece of legislation that will be a step in the right direction.  I’m particularly excited about the mandated bystander intervention.  Bystander intervention training will definitely help stop sexual violence on college campuses, especially if students receive this training during their first semester of their freshman year.

I am particularly excited about this piece of legislation.  During my internship at a sexual assault awareness center, I have been working a lot with the University’s sexual assault policy.  Doing this work has definitely opened my eyes to the work that still needs to be done.

You should check out the full text of the bill and become educated about the issue.  Then you can contact your representative about the importance of this bill.

*Most of this information is taken from the SAFER Campus Blog.

Trigger warning.

There have been some great posts lately about sexual assault and rape culture.  Here are some ones that I thought were particularly interesting/well-written.

Ms. Blog: Silence and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

I am compelled to speak up because sexual assault breeds in a Petri dish of silence. Certainly the potential danger in coming forward is critical for rape and sexual assault survivors. Yet even vocal bystanders risk violating a tacit cultural agreement to keep such problems hushed up.

Equality 101: Incorporating Discussions of Violence

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is that we need to have conversations about violence with our students and not just lecture about statistics and the plight of “those” women. Those women can be us, our students, mothers, sisters, daughters and the boys and men around us. We need to have conversations about this reality, but also empower women and girls, so that the conversation is not merely about the victim.

The SAPAC Voice: CouchSurfing ignores violence against women

In fact, CouchSurfing seems to continuously ignore the various complaints from many women on their own message boards, and only give out the standard response, that members need to look into their potential hosts more closely. The only way it seems to get CouchSurfing’s attention is through proof of legal action, where the responsibility is completely on the survivor to lodge a complaint and seek the authorities.

Gender Across Borders: Dear Jezebel

Just over two weeks ago, Jezebel published an article entitled American Guy in Paris Freed From The Idea Of “Consent”. In said article, an American named Edward Pasteck described a recent trip to Paris and certain revelations that struck him while embarking on his relationship endeavours. As the title of his piece might suggest, curious Edward discovered that, in Paris, it was okay to rape women!

Shakesville: Ugh.

Steve Harvey is back with more of his wisdom about men and women and relationships. (If you’re not familiar with this guy’s shtick, here is Renee’s “Steve Harvey” archive.) And, like all the rest of his gender essentialist, heterocentrist, deeply misogynist claptrap, this “men and women can’t be friends” garbage is about as fresh as pterodactyl droppings. It’s also one of the key narratives of the rape culture.

Trigger warning.

Earlier this semester, the sexual assault organization that I am an intern at was holding volunteer training at the university that I attend.  The volunteer was being held in the law school (it’s not a part of the law school, we were just holding it there for the space).  While setting up, one of the other interns started talking to a law student who had come out of a classroom and inquired about what was going on.  Then this law student asked, “isn’t rape more of an undergrad problem?”

He tried to explain this as undergrad go to parties and get too drunk, which then of course leads to sexual assault and of course this never happens in law school.

But no, sexual assault is not something that only happens in college and only to undergrads.  It has nothing to do with how much someone drinks or if they go to parties.  Sexual assault can happen to anyone.  That’s not meant to scare you, but just to get you to think about what the rape myths are and why they are actually myths.

And the scary part was that this was a future lawyer who was saying this.  These people are supposed to be defending the laws and seeking justice.  How is anything going to change in our culture if the lawyers are the ones that that promote these rape myths.*

So when you hear people talking like this law student or promoting rape myths, stand up to them.  Question their beliefs.  Provide them with the real information.

*I’m not talking about all lawyers.  Just talking generally about what needs to be done in society.

Here are some links to great articles about the sexual assault charges against WikiLinks founder Julian Assange in Sweden.

Feministe: Some thoughts on “sex by surprise”

Well, no, I’m not sure it’s that straightforward. The actual details of what happened are hard to come by, and are largely filtered through tabloid sources that are quick to offer crucial facts like the hair color of the women (blonde) and the clothes they wore (pink, tight), but it sounds like the sex was consensual on the condition that a condom was used.

Salon: The rush to smear Assange’s rape accuser

Public evidence, as the Times noted, is scarce. So, it’s heartening to see that in the absence of same, my fellow liberal bloggers are so eager to abandon any pretense of healthy skepticism and rush to discredit an alleged rape victim based on some tabloid articles and a feverish post by someone who is perhaps not the most trustworthy source. Well done, friends! What a fantastic show of research, critical thinking and, as always, respect for women.

Alas, a blog: Rape Myths and Julian Assange

Most women who have been raped had little public evidence of their experience. By repeating these rape myths in defence of Julian Assanger people are attacking not just the women involved, but other women who have been raped and had their experiences dismissed. They are also contributing to a culture where rape is denied, minimised, and distorted.

Tiger Beatdown: How We Describe Women Who Reports Sexual Assaults Now

You guys, why are these women engaging in the (risky, socially consequential, unlikely-to-succeed) act of charging a socially prominent man with lots of supporters of sexual assault? They’re spies, right? Or they’re feminists who go around tricking men into having sex with them so they can make rape accusations? Whatever the case may be, it sounds like this is totally just about broken condoms, of all things! HOW BIZARRE!

Salon: Broadsheet: U.S. rape laws, explained

The country has the highest reporting rate in the European Union. (Perhaps because “Swedish women, backed by a strong consciousness of women’s rights and a history of a very public discussion of the scourge of sexual violence, may be more willing than most to look to the law for help,” writes the Times’ Katrin Bennhold.) Swedish law also recognizes “withdrawal of consent” as rape, which is what is alleged in the Assange case, and details three types of rape: “severe,” “regular” and “less severe.”

Reading about Sweden’s tough stance on sexual assault, I couldn’t help but wonder how the U.S. measures up. I gave Diane Moyer, legal director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, a call to find out.