Kayla Ray’s essay “1 in 5” communicates the continued frequency of sexual assault on college campuses and offers insights to the campus culture that leads to this epidemic. Ray’s paper, an argument essay, simultaneously argues for better and clearer local policy at the University of Louisville, while also critiquing the society we live in that too often turns to sexual assault survivors and questions their actions. This essay ends by offering solutions that individuals on college campuses (faculty, students, and administration) can do to both prevent sexual assault and offer support to those impacted by it. This essay follows the structure of an argument paper: it outlines the problem and finds solutions. In doing so, it demonstrates how writing is powerful and necessary when dealing with difficult topics. How does the opening of the essay, where the author begins by citing statistics of sexual assault, bring the reader into the paper? What is the power of telling an individual story (like on p. #) in an argument essay like this one? How does this essay, dealing with a difficult subject, engage in a discussion with its audience? Additionally, this essay was written in MLA Seven, and this is reflected in the works cited page at the end of the essay.
“When female students embark on a college career, they bear the unwarranted cost of the threat and reality of being raped, sexually assaulted, harassed, and stalked” (Fisher, Cullen, and Turner). 1 in 5 women will be victims of sexual assault during their time in college. The phrase “sexual assault” is a general term for any type of unwanted sexual activity or sexual activity without given consent. This includes, but is not limited to: kissing, unwanted touching, forcible fondling, and rape. News of sexual violence on college campuses is rapidly growing but unfortunately, it’s for all the wrong reasons. The issue society faces today is the fact that these incidents are reoccurring without consequence; victims are facing challenges every single day while the perpetrators move on like nothing ever happened. Why is this? Studies have been conducted and research has been collected but there is no clear answer. All we know is it’s time for college to make a change when it comes to their policies, but most importantly their protection of the victims.
The University of Louisville 2015 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report states “The University will not tolerate any form of sexual misconduct, domestic or dating violence, or stalking and will take immediate steps to end, prevent any recurrence, and correct any effects on the complainant or those involved in the complaint process.” From the outside, it seems as if the school feels strongly about protecting their students and ensuring safety, but the report made in correspondence to the Clery Act shows only one sexual assault reported in the year of 2015. When you look at statistics, the math doesn’t add up. Clerycenter.org summarizes the act: “The Jeanne Clery Act, a consumer protection law passed in 1990, requires all colleges and universities who receive federal funding to share information about crime on campus and their efforts to improve campus safety as well as inform the public of crime in or around campus. This information is made publicly accessible through the university’s annual security report.” Even if the report were accurate, it’s still one too many. The Bureau of Justice Statistics says 95% of campus sexual assaults go unreported. Although there are several reasons why victims of these heinous crimes choose not to report, the biggest one would be the lack of support from the institutions, law enforcement, and society as a whole.
Here in Louisville, one story goes untold. The night before the second semester began, a freshman female student visits the home of a guy in one of her classes just to “hang out.” What she experienced during her visit was something she’d never forget and have to live with forever. She told her friends and was advised to find out what her options were in terms of reporting the incident that was sexual assault. After meeting with the Student Conduct Officer she started the process of an administrative hearing. The hearing is similar to what you would experience in a courtroom without the legal jargon; there would be an advisor in place of an attorney and a hearing board that consisted of one staff member, one faculty, and one student in place of a jury and the conduct officer in place of judge except they have no control of the verdict. In whole the process would take about one month. After both the complainant and the accused share their side of the story during the hearing and answer questions asked by the opposite party as well as the hearing panel, one question being “What did you expect to happen going to a boys house at 11:30 at night?,” an investigator with the Dean of Student’s Office would listen to a recording of the hearing and make her decision on whether or not the accused student was found responsible or not responsible for the act of sexual misconduct and threatening. The night of the incident, there were no witnesses; no one there to hear what was said or to see what went on which made it an account of his word versus hers, and they chose his. She told the story of the boy who took advantage of her body and decided he was the one who had control and threatened her if she ever told, yet the “authority” didn’t believe her and he still walks the campus and goes without facing any consequences for his malicious actions.
As sad as it sounds, these types of stories are in no way uncommon. “For victims to be believed, a witness must be present or they must suffer sufficient physical harm that their effort to resist the sexual act cannot be challenged” (Unsafe in the Ivory Tower). Colleges and Universities care so much about their reputation that they rather brush off and deny the actions taking place right on their own campus than address the issue and provide protection and justice to the victims. Sexual violence can have lifelong emotional, psychological, and physical effects on a survivor. These may include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and in more extreme cases, suicide. Sasha Menu Courey was a student at the University of Missouri as well as a member of the swim team. The Washington Post writes, “The University of Missouri swimmer told a nurse, a rape crisis counselor, a campus therapist, two doctors and an athletic department administrator that she was raped, but no one did anything about it. Sixteen months after the attack, she killed herself.” While every individual victim has their own unique story, when it comes to how it was handled, the stories begin to sound the same, yet institutional policies go unchanged.
On the topic of university procedures regarding sexual violence, “The procedures vary widely. Most schools hold disciplinary hearings, often made up of teachers and students, some with little training, acting as prosecutor, judge and jury. And though the punishment isn’t as severe as in criminal cases, it’s significant for both the accuser and the accused. It can end a college education, and critics of the process say it can unfairly damage lives” (Gamin and Black). UofL has very general policies and procedures when it comes to sexual misconduct. The introduction to the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy states “The University of Louisville prohibits all forms of sex discrimination and sexual misconduct.” It goes on to list resources for filing a complaint or making a report as well as what actions fall under the “sexual misconduct” category. They include: sexual harassment, sexually abusive contact, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual exploitation, stalking and retaliation. The policy also affirms “When an allegation of misconduct is brought to the attention of a University official and a student is found to have violated the Code of Student Conduct, sanctions will be issued.” All of these statements seem ideal on paper, but there’s a catch; just like in the story above, there is a very good chance the perpetrator will not be found responsible for the violation. Who makes that decision? In most cases it would be the Assistant Dean of Students. At Louisville, the investigator makes the decision based off a recording of the hearing instead of actually being present which doesn’t seem appropriate; you would never hold a court case without the judge present. This is just one of several flaws in institutional policies. Others include the lack of urgency for cases in which case the hearing process is spanned out across a long period of time making it difficult for victims recover mentally and the absence of appropriate support from officials and administrators.
Colleges aren’t the only ones struggling to grasp the concept of sexual assault. Society as whole has played a large role in the misguided idea that the victim is somehow at fault for the assaults against them. This is where “victim blaming” comes to play. “What was she wearing?” “Was she flirting with him?” “How much did she have to drink?” Survivors are much more likely to be asked these questions than the assailant being asked “Why did you do it?” or even being told what they did was wrong. Victim blaming is yet another reason women choose not to report to any type of authority; they become discouraged because they believe they will harshly questioned or even held responsible for what happened to them instead of receiving any type of support. This alone can cause several issues for the victim in terms of mentality. When cases of sexual violence happens, people assume only immediate physical harm comes with it but just as stated before, it can bring on a variety of psychological problems as well. In fact, Dr. Dean G Kilpatrick researched and showed “Almost one-third (31%) of all rape victims developed PTSD sometime during their lifetime.” It’s very common for survivors to feel an array of emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt, and even numbness. Without taking the proper measures and seeking some type of treatment, these will leave long lasting effects on their lives.
It’s easy to say that change needs to be made; what’s not so easy is deciding what type of changes. Even the government has been working for and alongside institutions of higher education by passing laws and bills such as Title IX which is in place to prevent sex discrimination in all forms. There was a “Dear Colleague” letter which is “a letter sent by one member of a legislative body to all fellow members, usually describing a new bill and asking for cosponsors or seeking to influence the recipients’ votes on an issue” written addressing sexual violence particularly on college campuses and the Title IX requirements regarding the acts. This was created in hopes that all colleges would be able effectively handle the troublesome sexual violence issues.
The American Association of University Professors published a statement titled “Campus Sexual Assault: Suggested Policies and Procedures.” It provides specific suggestions on how colleges should go about addressing the problem of sexual assault. It begins by explaining the “scope of the problem” and consequences of sexual assault. Next, in the section of management of sexual assault, “as we suggest in this document, sound campus policy and procedures should aim to eliminate sexual assault and its devastating consequences. Closer coordination with trained law-enforcement officials, for example, increases the likelihood that incidents will be more fully investigated and adjudicated.” This is something that would definitely make a difference in the way these cases are handled. It’s important for law enforcement to work efficiently with the colleges as well as advocacy centers in order to ensure the right treatment of victims. The statement goes into further detail and gives specific examples on what colleges can change and work towards. Some of these include making sure all faculty and staff are on the same page about the problem and share responsibility for addressing it and providing clear, understandable, and accurate policies and procedures that can be accessed by everyone. It would also be beneficial if all on-campus personnel were trained in reporting procedures as well as disciplinary actions. In addition, the article includes ideas for prevention programs. These types of programs would be less targeted towards precautionary measures for women and more towards male athletes and fraternity groups to explain the concept and importance of consent and what could happen if they decide to abide by the rule of only taking “yes” as an answer as well as bystanders so they know how to recognize sexual or dating violence and how to intervene. All of these are minor reforms that could potentially make huge differences in the lives of survivors.
It’s very obvious that no matter what, dealing the effects of sexual assault as a survivor can be a major struggle. The University of Louisville does provide what some would consider a life-saving resource which is the PEACC program. PEACC stands for Prevention, Education, and Advocacy on Campus and the Community. They provide every service a survivor of sexual or relationship violence might need from emotional support to advocate support in cases of lawsuits and/or administrative hearings. Similar programs within colleges in Kentucky include the University of Kentucky’s VIP (Violence Intervention and Prevention) Center and the Crimson CORPS group at Indiana University which mainly focuses on mental health of students. Additionally, most universities offer free counseling from licensed and trained professionals. These types of groups and programs are necessary for ensuring the safety and well-being of all students and not just victims so it’s crucial that colleges and universities take into account the importance of informing their students of the services being provided on their campus.
All in all, the issue of sexual violence and assault on campus has the potential to become a slippery slope in terms of reporting and disciplinary procedures; when allegations are made, colleges must hold the accused responsible but also provide a fair and equal “trial”. However, they must be able to do this while also ensuring protection and safety for the victims. Higher education institutions are struggling to find the appropriate balance between the two and until it is found, the problem at hand will remain. In the meantime, awareness is key. The rape culture surrounding our society needs to be put to rest by addressing each and every issue that goes along with it. All of society including teenagers, young adults, parents and even the elderly must be and stay informed on ways to put a stop to not only crimes taking place, but also the silencing of survivors being done by the schools, law enforcement, and community around them. This can all be done with open-mindedness and compassion towards each other. If people would put forth the time and effort into supporting this cause, an impact would be made and change would come. In the words of Vice President Joe Biden:
Our daughters, our sisters, our wives, our mothers, our grandmothers have every single right to expect to be free from violence and sexual abuse. No matter what she’s wearing, no matter whether she’s in a bar, in a dormitory, in the back seat of a car, on a street, drunk or sober — no man has a right to go beyond the word ‘no.’ And if she can’t consent, it also means no.
Calmes, Jackie. “Obama Seeks to Raise Awareness of Rape on Campus.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
“Campus Sexual Assault: Suggested Policies and Procedures.” Campus Sexual Assault: Suggested Policies and Procedures. American Association of University Professors, 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
“Current Legislation.” Current Legislation. Clery Center for Security on Campus, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
Dvorak, Petula. “Stop Blaming Victims for Sexual Assaults on Campus.” The Washington Post. N.p., 24 Feb. 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
Fisher, Bonnie S., Francis T. Cullen, and Michael G. Turner. “The Discovery of Sexual Victimization.” Unsafe in the Ivory Tower: The Sexual Victimization of College Women (2000): 1-24. EBSCO. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
Ganim, Sarah, and Nelli Black. “An Imperfect Process: How Campuses Deal with Sexual Assault.” CNN. Cable News Network, 21 Dec. 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
Hall, Wayne. Annual Security Report. N.p.: U of Louisville Police, n.d. 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
Kilpatrick, Deak G. “Mental Health Impact of Rape.” Mental Health Impact of Rape. National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
“Student Sexual Misconduct Policy.” – Dean of Students. University of Louisville, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.