Target: Brandeis University President Frederick Lawrence & Stanford University President John Hennessy
Goal: Ensure justice for victims of sexual assault on college campuses by demanding appropriately severe consequences for their attackers
Two top universities refuse to adequately punish students found guilty of sexual assault despite their victims’ public protest. Sexual assault is endemic on American college campuses. Some estimates place the number of students sexually assaulted during their time in college as high as one in four women and one in twenty-five men. But perhaps the most shocking aspect of this crisis is the lack of action and accountability on the part of college administrations.
Many attacks go unreported, and those who do speak out are often met with inaction and attempts to silence them. During a six-month investigation at Brandeis University the survivor was told nothing about the proceedings. He was even told to expect to see his rapist around campus despite his no-contact order. Eventually the accused student was found guilty of sexual assault, sexual harassment, physical harm and taking advantage of the survivor’s incapacitation. He was issued a warning and told to attend sensitivity training, but faced no criminal charges or expulsion.
At Stanford the guilty party was suspended for five quarters after completion of his undergraduate degree and before beginning graduate school in what the victim called a “gap year.” He is also being required to do community service and take a class about sexual assault. Meanwhile the rape survivor graduated late due to lasting anxiety and trauma. There were no criminal proceedings.
In a few short years both of these attackers’ lives will resume as normal. Their victims, on the other hand, will most likely not be so lucky. The Education Amendments of 1972 guarantee the right to an education free from sexual violence and harassment. Yet the Department of Education has failed to press for changes at the numerous colleges and universities where sexual violence policies fail to conform to federal law.
Rape is a violent crime. Colleges need to re-align their policies by collaborating with local police and taking criminal action against these attackers. Students should have access to clear channels for reporting potential sexual assaults, and administrations must practice transparency throughout the process. Demand that perpetrators of sexual assault, no matter how exemplary in the classroom, be punished to the full extent of the law.
Dear Mr. Lawrence & Mr. Hennessy,
Two brave students at Brandeis and Stanford recently spoke up about their experiences reporting their sexual assaults to your administrations. They expected and deserved your empathy, counseling and protection following these traumatic, life-altering events. Instead your administrations let their attackers off easy and tried to cover up the problem instead of addressing it.
You may attempt to preserve your schools’ reputations at the cost of justice and integrity, but what good is a reputation for covering up sexual assault? Rape is a serious crime, and offenders should meet with serious consequences. A faculty board is no substitute for a judge and jury. Work with local police to escalate criminal actions. Provide clear guidelines for students who need to report assaults. Be transparent with survivors and your surrounding communities throughout any investigation. Most importantly, demand expulsion and criminal prosecution for all assailants.
In compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments, all students have the right to feel safe from sexual violence on their own campuses–buildings and grounds that become their home for years. Take a stand against sexual violence at your schools. Do not allow these offenses to go unpunished.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Alexandra Cavoulacos via Flickr