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Have College Campuses Become a Hunting Ground for Student Rape?

Is Sexual Assault Too Easily Dismissed by Campus Administrators?

Brock Turner, the former Stanford University swimmer who spent three months in jail after being convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, registered as a sex offender in western Ohio a couple of weeks ago. While Turner is required to register as a sex offender for life, it doesn’t explain why he was given only a three-month sentence. Also, the registry is somewhat of a joke because while his name is on the online listing of offenders, the only additional protection for the public is a postcard that will be sent to anyone living within 1,250 feet of Turner’s address and he must live at least 1,000 feet from schools and playgrounds.

Justice was not served in the Turner case. The woman he raped did not have the capacity to consent to the sex. The way in which the act occurred is particularly troubling. She was left in an unconscious state behind a dumpster between two fraternity houses, her dress pulled over her shoulders, her bra pulled down, naked from the waist up.

Judge Aaron Persky, who decided the case, should be forced to resign or be removed from the court. The judge supported the light sentence by saying Turner had a lack of a criminal history and was remorseful. Of course he was remorseful, but only because he got caught.

Sexual Discrimination Laws

The debate over how to protect and investigate sexual assault has reached a level of great concern because of the increasing number of cases. More than 100 colleges are now under investigation for possibly violating federal anti-discrimination laws. Title IX requires schools to combat sex discrimination in education. The problem is seminars and training in this area play only lip service to a serious problem that colleges must fully protect students from rape.

I’ve been through these seminars and know that in all too many cases, it’s a PowerPoint presentation with no practical application. In other words, a more holistic approach needs to be developed including mandatory ethics education classes that emphasis respect, personal responsibility, and the consequences of sexual assault on the offender and student alike. A seminar and training program, typically administered online, is necessary but insufficient to combat the growing scourge on college campuses.

The Hunting Ground Film

The Turner case is one of many on college campuses. Sexual assault on college campuses has historically been treated nothing more than a “he said, she said” affair. The internal investigations are typically dismissive and err on the side of protecting the rights of the offending student, not those of the offended. This was recently highlighted in a film The Hunting Ground.

The film has been touring college campuses and is turning a lot of heads. Advocates laud the fact that is sheds much needed-light on the way administrators cover up rape on campuses while critics accuse filmmakers of fear mongering and advocating for a radical adjudication procedure that ignores due process for the accused. I’ve seen the tape and have concluded that while the truth probably lays somewhere in-between, the gut-wrenching film is needed to emphasize the growing problem and drive home the charge to administrators that their number one job is not to protect the image of the university but provide due process to the offended student and investigate alleged rapes with an open mind.

We need to change the culture on college campuses. Rather than the oft-stated explanation that the female student is at least partly to blame because she was intoxicated and “opened the door” to rape, the burden should be place on the alleged rapist to back off at that time because of the inability of the offended party to consent. We might say that each student on a college campus should be expected to live up to the ethical standard: First, do no Harm”.

Extent of the Sexual Assault Problem

Research has shown that only a quarter of all reported rapes lead to an arrest, only a fifth lead to prosecution, and only half of those prosecuted result in felony convictions. Additionally, not all state laws cover sexual assault violence perpetrated by a woman or a person of the same sex as the victim. It’s no wonder that most rapes on college campuses go unreported. The offended person often fears that his or her previous history will be used against them and widespread embarrassment will result.

College administrators must ensure that their campuses are places where justice and safety is the number one priority. It has often been said that a college campus is a laboratory for students to explore new ideas, discuss them in open forums and in classrooms, and be open to changing their behaviors in order to become contributors to society. The way reported rapes are handled go a long way to determine whether colleges have done enough to satisfy these expectations and the demand of the public that they provide a safe environment for such learning to occur.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 20, 2016. Dr. Mintz is Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at:

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