By now, it's well established that colleges are pretty deplorable at responding to and adjudicating sexual assault cases. Of course, the institutional negligence and ineptitude doesn't end there: a new report shows that even when students are found responsible for sexual assault, it's very unlikely they'll be kicked out of school. Color me shocked.
At the Huffington Post, Tyler Kingkade reviewed data provided from 32 schools in addition to data obtained from 125 institutions of higher learning through a Freedom of Information Act. According to the former set of data, students found responsible for sexual assault were expelled in just 30 percent of cases and suspended in 47 percent of cases; according to the latter, between 13 and 30 percent of students found responsible for sexual assault were expelled, and between 29 and 68 percent were suspended. This means that over two-thirds of students who go through the sexual misconduct hearing process — which, obviously, is not at all pleasant — and see their assailants found responsible do not see their assailants expelled. In some cases, students found responsible for sexual assault aren't even suspended; instead, they're asked to write essays reflecting on what they did. In a particularly egregious example, a University of Toledo student filed a Title IX complaint earlier this month alleging that her rapist had been found guilty and punished with probation and a $25 fine.
As Kingkade points out, the Association for Student Conduct Administration is at least partly to blame. The organization emphasizes the idea that "campus proceedings are educational" and "the process should not be punitive." "'Rape' is a legal, criminal term," ASCA President Laura Bennett told Kingkade. "We're trying to continue to share we're not court, we don't want to be court — we want to provide an administrative, educative process."
It's true that Title IX hearings are not criminal proceedings. Title IX bans gender-based discrimination in education; sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination and sexual violence all fall under that umbrella (heeding in advance the phantom cries of MRAs: no, it does not only apply to female students). Under Title IX, it is a school's job to ensure that its campus is not a "hostile sexual environment." So guess what! Allowing rapists to remain on campus does, indeed, create a hostile sexual environment! Framing expulsion just as a punishment, and then deeming that punishment too harsh for students, overlooks the victims' side with a nearly depraved indifference. If someone has been sexually assaulted, seeing their assailant on campus often makes them feel deeply unsafe. It can exacerbate symptoms of PTSD and depression; it can make it difficult for them to move about campus; it can have a huge negative impact on their academic performance. Far too often, survivors of sexual assault — both male and female — drop out of school while their rapists go on to graduate. To ignore this fact is both myopic and immeasurably damaging; purporting to focus on "educating" students found responsible for sexual assault while allowing their victims' educational experience to suffer is utter bullshit.
Furthermore, Kingkade cites a well-known study by psychologist David Lisak. According to Lisak's findings, only 6 percent of college-aged men surveyed had committed rape, and the majority of them were repeat offenders. Contrary to what some conservative pundits might argue, campus rape isn't the result of poor communication or some drunken misunderstanding: most sexual assaults at college are committed by serial rapists who are well aware of what they're doing. So removing rapists from campus isn't just important for survivors' mental health — it's also a means of protecting other students. (In a recent, high-profile example: Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz, who is dragging her mattress around campus until her rapist leaves school, was raped by a student who allegedly assaulted two other women in addition to her. All three went through the university's sexual misconduct hearing process. He's still on campus.)
Hopefully, substantive change occurs soon. And hopefully administrators, politicians and media critics start putting survivors' needs before the otherwise promising futures of those poor, misunderstood rapists.
Image via Getty.