Why aren't American universities doing more to stop rape?

Students claim widespread failures to address sexual violence

Sexual assault
(Image credit: Think Stock)

The University of Southern California is the latest school to be hit with allegations that it failed to prosecute rape.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights is investigating claims from 13 students who say they suffered from the "extensive failures" of USC administrators and campus police to respond to "reports of sexual violence on campus."

Those reports include:

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An anonymous student who claimed campus police told her that she wasn't raped because she didn't orgasm. "Because he stopped, it was not rape," she was told, according to The Huffington Post. "Even though his penis penetrated your vagina, because he stopped, it was not a crime."

Another student who claimed a member of the campus police told her that she shouldn't "go out, get drunk and expect not to get raped" after reporting a sexual assault at a fraternity party.

Testimony from Tucker Reed, a student who, according to The Huffington Post, was allegedly told by a USC official that the goal of the university was not to "punish" students for rape but to offer them an "educative" process. Reed had reported that her ex-boyfriend had raped her, an act he reportedly confessed to on tape. [The Huffington Post]

Jody Shipper, USC Title IX coordinator, responded to the charges by telling The Huffington Post that the university "remains vigilant in addressing any issues promptly and fully as they arise," and was looking "forward to working with [the Office of Civil Rights] to address any concerns and review our protocols as needed."

USC isn't the only school to get in trouble for reportedly failing to prosecute rape. In May, Yale was hit with a $165,000 fine for allegedly underreporting rape on campus. Dartmouth College, Swarthmore, and the University of California, Berkeley, all faced claims similar to those made against USC. Earlier this month, the Department of Education investigated the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill over allegations that a student was punished for creating an "intimidating" environment for her ex-boyfriend by reporting that he raped her.

Why are American universities doing such a bad job at preventing and prosecuting rape?

"We can deconstruct this pressure to stay quiet, but it is very real and very powerful, and it benefits universities looking to avoid scandalous headlines for the sake of reputation, application rates, and alumni donations," wrote Alexandra Brodsky in The Guardian, adding that universities often go unpunished for their actions:

The department knows sexual violence is rampant on American campuses. It has investigated dozens of schools based on student complaints, uncovering blatantly illegal abuses: Survivors are told not to report their crimes by school administrators, threatened with expulsion if they speak about their experiences, and forcibly institutionalized.

Yet even in the face of such violations, the Education Department almost always chooses to avoid legal action or fines against schools by accepting administrators' promises to do better in the future. [The Guardian]

It doesn't have to be this way. Back in 2011, the White House sent a letter to school administrators telling them that universities must inform a student who reports a rape of his or her rights to an investigation, carry out that investigation in a timely manner, and not punish women who report being sexually assaulted while using drugs or alcohol.

Apparently the message didn't sink in. That's a shame, wrote Aly Neel in The Washington Post, who complained about Princeton failing to publish a survey it had taken on the prevalence of rape on campus.

"We're not demanding rape-free campuses overnight (though that'd be nice)," wrote Neel. "But pretending sexual assault doesn't exist will not make it go away."

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