Why is sexual assault such a recurring problem on college campuses in the United States? Why is there such little talk about it, when it is one of the most rapidly growing problems amongst eighteen to twenty-two year olds? Why is it that 1- in - 5 women are sexually assaulted during their time in college?
The problem lies in the fact that college officials, athletic directors, and campus police have been brushing these cases under the rug in order to save face and continue to generate revenue from the influx of students to their schools. No one wants to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for their child to attend a school where they may be sexually assaulted, so colleges hide these allegations. By setting the precedent of little to no consequences for committing rape or sexual assault, these adults who are in power are perpetuating rape culture on college campuses.
I recently watched CNN’s “The Hunting Ground”, an exposé detailing the frequency of campus rape and the dismissal of it by school presidents, officials, and police officers. Yes, I said police officers. Let me start by saying that I am not advocating for or against this documentary, but many of the facts that it presented were quite shocking and disturbing to me, pushing me to write this article. Although this documentary was criticized very harshly by many on its biased view of the events it portrayed, I have found through more research that the majority of the facts it presented are true.
One of the main stories that was brought up in "The Hunting Ground", which struck me deeply, was that of Erica Kinsman. She wasa student at Florida State University when she became the victim of rape. Erica immediately went to campus police and the Tallahassee police department the morning after her assault, and had a rape kit done at a nearby hospital. Over a month later, police finally identified her rapist as FSU’s rising football star Jameis Winston, and waited another two weeks to contact him about the incident. A few weeks later, Tallahassee police closed the case without ever hearing from Winston or any key witnesses, one of which filmed part of the sexual assault.
After no repercussions for her rapist, Erica Kinsman decided to pursue a Title IX investigation through FSU’s code of conduct proceedings. At this time a second student accused Winston of sexual assault, and the Dean of Students sent an email to FSU’s Policy Chief stating that Winston would not have any disciplinary hearings for either of these cases. Almost a year after her rape, the DNA collected from Erica’s rape kit is finally tested and matched to Winston. However, the State Attorney’s office announced that Winston would not be charged, and the Tallahassee police’s investigation was closed. Another year passed, and FSU finally decides to hold multiple hearings; Erica answered all 153 questions asked of her, and Winston refused to answer all but 3 questions. Over two years after her rape, Erica Kinsman’s case was dismissed by an FSU hearing officer that “found Winston not responsible for rape” even though his 3 answers clearly displayed that he violated FSU’s specific student consent policy requiring verbal consent in sexual encounters.
After watching Erica’s tragic story unfold, I am appalled at the way this situation was handled. The Department of Education suggests that all cases of this nature be resolved within 60 days of the accusation. Why, then, did FSU decide to stretch this incident out over more than two years, and not even test the rape kit for almost a full year after the offense? As a victim, Erica did everything right: she notified the school and local police, went to the hospital and had a rape kit administered, and gave the authorities all of the information that she knew. So why did the police not obtain security footage from the bar that Erica Kinsman was at to identify the man she left with? And why did they wait so long to contact Winston?
As was portrayed in other segments of “The Hunting Ground”, many schools have acted similarly to the FSU case. Colleges protect their student athletes because they view these individuals as a source of tremendous income towards the institution. But ask yourself: is monetary gain really a more worthy cause than bringing rapists to justice? Are donations really worth the tradeoff of obstructing justice for victims of sexual assault, often causing a multitude of negative side affects that will stick with the victim for the rest of their life? When did financial gain become more important to educational institutions than the safety and well being of students?
In this country, it is Title IX of the Education Amendments that calls for “the nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance”. This law also acts as a tool for those fighting against sexual assault and rape, because being sexually assaulted in your learning environment results in the denial of access to equal educational opportunities for those victims. Under this title, it is breaking federal law when victims of sexual assault are being swept aside and silenced on college campuses.
It has been found that 88 percent of sexual assaults that occur on college campuses are not reported. But that statistic makes sense in light of the atmosphere that college officials have fostered. If large-scale cases like Erica Kinsman’s can be dismissed not only by the Dean, but various other school officials, AND the local police force, then why would anyone have hope that their situation would be brought to justice? The attitude set forth by college administrators is that they do not like to bring attention towards sexual assault on their campus; therefore, the students committing these crimes get off with little or no penalties for their actions. This creates an unwelcoming and unhelpful environment for victims of sexual assault, and pushes victims to not report what has happened to them.
In a recent survey, 95 percent of college presidents who participated said that they handle sexual assault “appropriately”. However, many institutions hide incidents of sexual assault from public knowledge, and give the offenders a day of community service or a day of suspension from classes as punishment. If this is the “appropriate” response for sexual assault, then I have a serious problem with our system of higher education. Out in the real world, convicted rapists serve years in prison for this crime, and some get sentenced to life behind bars based on their circumstance. So what makes college students and athletes immune to the real world consequences of sexually assaulting another human being? It simply does not make sense to me.
In order to bring about change, people must start advocating for victims of sexual assault. As noted in “The Hunting Ground”, in many top colleges, professors and other officials have been fired when they begin to seriously advocate for transparency and increased action towards sexual assault on campus. This only proves that colleges have become institutions focused more on their reputations than the well being of their students. That is sickening, and needs to change.
No college wants to be the first to admit to full accountability in regards to the actual number of sexual assaults that take place on its campus, which is why we need to push for ALL colleges to become open and transparent in this matter. The first step towards change is knowledge, and the second step is action. Hopefully, you as a reader, will continue to educate yourself on this pressing issue, and share your knowledge with others to help bring about the changes that colleges these days so desperately need.