Brown University: if you want to graduate, you have to be on campus with your rapist

– Posted by SRF

The Brown University-based publication Bluestockings published an article yesterday harshly criticizing how Brown dealt with a case of sexual assault. Here’s a short summary of the case, followed by a few of my thoughts.

In August 2013, Brown University student Lena Sclove was sexually assaulted. Within two weeks, she reported the assault to Brown’s Office of Student Life. After three exhausting months of proceedings — during which she was forced to see her rapist at her campus job, in the library, and in the dining hall — a hearing was finally held. He was suspended for just one year. But that doesn’t even mean Lena won’t have to see him again: if she wants to finish her degree, she’ll have to do so side-by-side her rapist. As Bluestockings writes, “Brown University and its disciplinary process have failed Lena, and other survivors and victims of sexual assault on this campus. It is clear that the University’s priority was to protect the rapist, and to protect itself.”

First, a one-year suspension is not a sufficiently harsh punishment for sexual assault.  In my opinion, university campuses should have a policy of zero-tolerance toward sexual assault; being found guilty should mean automatic expulsion. A one-year suspension seems to be much more of a superficial concession than it is a serious measure to keep campus safe for women.

Second, Lena’s rapist is guilty not just of breaking Brown’s student code of conduct; he is guilty of breaking the law. Yet as reported by the Brown Daily Herald, the university discouraged Lena from going to the police to pursue a criminal case. Universities have strict police reporting guidelines when it comes to other matters (for example, when an international student isn’t attending enough classes, many universities in the UK have strict policies about reporting such to immigration services, which can lead to the revocation of that student’s visa and result in his/her deportation). But when sexual assault is at issue, universities make themselves into sovereign islands with their own judicial processes, where a group of administrators (a lot of the time high-ranking white males) with a vested interest in maintaining a good face for the university get to decide ad-hoc the fates of assailant and survivor.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating stronger ties between the criminal justice system and universities in cases of sexual violence. On the contrary, I’m firmly against the anti-sexual violence movement’s reliance on the criminal justice system (for many reasons; chief among them, it doesn’t work. For more on this, check out this PDF put out by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence). I simply mean to point out a hypocrisy.  Universities don’t deal with sexual assault cases in-house because of their radical politics; they do so because (1) they don’t take such cases as seriously as they should, and (2) they wish to ‘resolve’ such cases as quietly and quickly as they can in order to stop the PR bleeding.

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