This weekend, the New York Times ran the horrifying story of a young Hobart and William Smith College student named Anna who was raped at a party, in front of laughing spectators. The storyline is depressingly familiar — Anna's rape kit concluded that she'd been violently sexually assaulted, but when she turned to her college's adjudication process for justice, the cowardly dipshits in charge acquitted her varsity athlete assailants within a matter of days. With stories like this popping up left and right, it's hard to see them as the exception anymore. Are any schools any better than complete garbage at handling sexual assault?
The story begins much like a lot of campus sexual assault stories — at an alcohol-soaked party, just weeks into Anna's freshman year at Hobart and William Smith. She had been out with some friends, got separated, sent a series of ominous texts about wanting help, a male friend set out looking for her, and then,
Around 1:25 a.m., after 10 minutes of searching, the friend said, he found Anna "bent over the pool table face down with her back towards the wall." She and the senior football player had their pants down, he said, "and it was clear they were having sex."
Anna "had a scared look on her face," he said, as six or seven people, perhaps five feet away, were "looking and laughing."
Anna's friend, a freshman who was also a football player, approached his teammate and told him that he was being disrespectful and had "crossed the line."
"It wasn't me, it was her," the teammate replied.
The friend walked Anna back to her dorm. On the way, another student saw her crying.
To this day, Anna says she remembers nothing about the Barn, the pool table or what happened there.
Anna, so intoxicated that she was incoherent, was taken to a local hospital after it was clear that she wasn't okay. According to the officer who drove her, she had to throw up four times during the trip, and her dorm mates believed she'd been drugged.
In stories like Anna's, the public usually doesn't have access to transcripts of university disciplinary proceedings, since universities are sheltered from accountability by legal opacity originally designed to protect the privacy of victims. But this time around, the Times got their mitts on a transcript of what happened when Anna's case came before a university-assembled disciplinary board. The whole piece is worth a read in its jaw-dropping entirety, but in case you only have time for bullet points, here are some of the more infuriating details of what happened:
- the hearing occurred before Anna's rape kit results were known;
- two of the three panel members were not shown medical evidence that showed Anna had suffered genital trauma as a result of the rape;
- one of the panelists didn't know what a rape kit is;
- Anna's assailant violated a "no-contact" order, but the school took months to investigate him and then wouldn't tell Anna if he was guilty or not, citing "privacy;"
- "Privacy" concerns which, by the way, didn't prevent the university from sending out a letter to students that told everyone her name;
- Anna faced retaliation from the assailants' friends and teammates;
- Anna wasn't allowed an advocate during the proceedings and was questioned about reports she hadn't seen;
- The boys involved changed their stories multiple times, from saying no one had sex with Anna to admitting that they definitely had but it totally wasn't rape;
- The football coach called the players into a meeting, where he told all three players about what Anna's account said. Ostensibly, the three men colluded their stories at this point, because after this meeting, all of their stories changed;
- "Until last year, Hobart and William Smith's chief fund-raiser also helped oversee the school's handling of sexual assaults."
- etc. Forever.
Further, the Times quotes Brett A. Sokolow in the piece. Sokolow is identified as a "legal advisor" to the school who throws a pity party for universities implicated in sexual assault related bullshit. Sokolow himself is no stranger to campus rape. In fact, he's built himself a bit of a career defending rapists and universities who fail victims, earlier this year famously saying that students accused of rape are "simply being punished" for having drunken sex. Here's Buzzfeed's Katie JM Baker with more on the MRA hero,
"Why should only the male be charged if both students behave in ways defined as prohibited by the policy?" he asked. "I'm not suggesting we charge both. Surely, every drunken sexual hook-up is not a punishable offense, especially if the parties know what they did and liked it."
The April 26th newsletter, titled "SEX AND BOOZE," garnered Sokolow a mention inWall Street Journal columnist and widely noted "serial rape apologist" James Taranto's "Best of the Web" roundup, and praise from various men's rights bloggers.
In Sokolow's view, the real victims in the campus sexual assault crisis are poor, put upon college campuses and the men who don't know what consent is who are just out there makin' mistakes. And women who allege that they've been raped are simply the sort of people who have pleasurable drunken sexual experiences and then report their sex partners because.... ladies love incredibly humiliating and time-consuming processes that result in — at best — destroyed friendships and damaged reputations, I guess. If I ever get married, instead of a bachelorette party, I'm going to get all my girl friends together and file false rape reports!
What happened to Anna, both during the assault and in the assault's aftermath, is so infuriating that it should cause protests on campus, revocation of monetary gifts from alumni, sports boycotts from other football teams in Hobart and William Smith's athletic conference.
But it isn't. Because what happened there is happening fucking everywhere. If a school is being investigated for its mishandling of sexual assault, we can safely assume that it has done something questionable to egregious in handling rapes that were reported, but if a school isn't on the list of institutions the Department of Education is investigating, that may mean that the problem there is so deeply rooted that students may not even feel empowered enough to come forward after being victimized. This is happening at public schools. Private schools. Liberal-leaning hippie dippy schools. Square haircut conservative religious schools. Urban schools. Rural schools. Jock schools. Nerd schools. Nerdy jock schools.
At this point, it would be more newsworthy if an in-depth Times investigation into campus culture and disciplinary procedures revealed a single college or university that didn't have an endemic sexual assault problem. Does such a college exist?
As with any depressing-as-hell story, there are bright spots to be found here. First, at least one member of Hobart and William Smith's football team isn't a rapey asshole; Anna's friend who stopped her rape and walked her home and helped her through the ordeal was also on the football team.
While reading rape story after horrifying rape story might feel discouraging (or, in the case of people who have to read and write about it on a daily basis, almost numbing), the fact that the New York Times is still digging, is still talking about it, and that people still give a shit is actually a good sign. If sexual assault on campus has been a problem for generations, then there are going to be a lot more stories that surface as the problem is eradicated, more termites as we pull up the floorboards. The more people know, the more people care. And the more people care, the better the chances are that the problem will be addressed in a lasting, positive way.
As for Anna? She's not going away. She'll be back at Hobart and William Smith this fall.