Jan

23

“Accessible, Prompt, and Equitable”? An Examination of Sexual Assault at Columbia

Written by

Illustration by Alexander Pines, CC'16
Illustration by Alexander Pines, CC'16

Illustration by Alexander Pines, CC’16

In light of President Obama’s new initiative to combat sexual assault on college campuses, we present a preview of the new issue of The Blue and White. The mag’s recently retired Managing Editor, Anna Bahr, BC ’14, spent four months reporting on and writing this series about sexual assault at Columbia. **TRIGGER WARNING FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT & RAPE ON A COLLEGE CAMPUS** 

UPDATE: Check out part two here.

The controversy over Columbia University’s handling of sexual assault has already hit the mainstream media. But the experiences of assault survivors have yet to be illuminated. This is the first installment of a two-part series (look for part two next week) sharing their stories and examining Columbia’s judiciary hearing process.

The three alleged respondents whose identities were disclosed to me over the course of research for this series did not respond to requests for comment. Columbia officials denied my interview requests. Thus, this story is written solely with the cooperation of the accusers. The names of all students involved have been changed to protect their privacy.

This two-part article is based primarily on interviews conducted over four months with ten Columbia and Barnard students who allegedly suffered sexual violence or harassment on campus during academic years ranging from 2011-2012 to 2013-14. Of these ten men and women, six chose to report their assaults to the Office of Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct, as infractions of Columbia’s Gender-Based Misconduct Policy (PDF). Of those six students, two complaints were carried through the entire judicial hearing process to find the alleged assaulter responsible. Neither of the individuals found in violation of the policy was expelled.

This piece is not intended to evaluate the decisionmaking of Columbia’s hearing panels or assess the nature of the policy itself. Instead, it examines the degree to which Columbia fulfilled the procedural expectations outlined in its own Gender-Based Misconduct Policy according to assaulted students who turned to the University for help.

“Gender-based misconduct is a serious concern on college campuses throughout the country. To address this concern, the University provides educational and preventative programs, services for individuals who have been impacted by gender-based discrimination or harassment, and accessible, prompt, and equitable methods of investigation and resolution…In addition, the University will take steps to prevent the recurrence of the misconduct and correct its effects, if appropriate.” — Columbia University, Gender-Based Misconduct Policies for Students

Tom was one of Sara’s closest friends. Their friends were all friends. They spent a lot of time together. They weren’t in a relationship, but had consensual sex twice.

One night at the end of August, Sara and Tom, both juniors at Columbia, were at a party. Tom was drunk; Sara was not. Tom is tall; Sara is slight. She had nearly fainted earlier that day from dehydration and wanted to take it easy. At the end of the night, they headed back to Sara’s room.

Sara said, minutes in, Tom grabbed her wrists and pinned her arms behind her head. He pushed her legs against her chest and forcefully penetrated her anus. They had never had anal sex before. They had never discussed it. It was painful. Sara began to struggle, screaming at him to stop, yelling at him to get off of her. He didn’t stop.

Afterwards, he laid next to her for a few seconds. They didn’t speak. He abruptly got out of bed, gathered his clothes, and walked out the door, leaving a handle of vodka behind him.

In New York State, first-degree rape is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 25 years.  At Columbia, a student found responsible for rape, groping, or harassment could potentially receive the same punishment given to underage students found in possession of alcohol. Both offenses could result in expulsion. Both could result in a written warning. According the Policy on Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct, students found responsible for violating the policy, “may be subject to sanctions including, but not limited to, reprimand/warning, disciplinary probation, suspension, and dismissal.”

The students profiled in this series understood the range of punishments their assaulter might receive. They chose to report their assaults with Columbia instead of turning to the NYPD.

Some explicitly hoped for leniency—seeing their assaulter participate in a remedial, community-based program was more attractive than expulsion. In other cases, students felt conflicted about sending their assaulter to jail—“ruining the life”—of an individual who had once been a friend.

Sara believed Columbia’s alternative safer and more private than turning to the police: “I heard so many horrible stories about how badly the police handle cases like these. Columbia also advertises its resources so much that I thought they would really listen to me. I thought I would be taken care of,” she said. She expected that Tom would be expelled.

Unfortunately, said Stanley Arkin, Sara’s lawyer, Columbia’s concern with its public image results in a lack of transparency about a policy meant to keep its students safe and undermines the university’s commitment to fairness:  “The University weighs discretion more than justice. It is trying so hard to keep these acts discrete that, to some extent, the process belies an effective justice.”

The Columbia policy on “gender-based misconduct” describes what a court might consider criminal activity with muted euphemisms: rape becomes “non-consensual sexual intercourse;” sexual abuse converts to “non-consensual sexual contact.” Alleged rapists are referred to in the policy and during the hearing panel as “respondents,” and all literature describes claimants as “complainants.” The judiciary hearing panel itself, typically composed of two deans/senior administrators and a student, is charged with determining whether the “respondent” is “responsible”—not whether he/she is guilty.

But the university’s promise to foster “a healthy and safe environment in which every member of the community can realize her or his fullest potential” was unequivocally compromised for Sara. Though a no-contact directive, preventing either student from speaking with the other, remains in place, Sara feels fundamentally unsafe in her environment. Her energies are not devoted to her academic work, but to steeling herself for an unexpected run-in with Tom in the library hall. Her capacity to “realize her fullest potential,” stymied.

As Sara put it, “I feel physically ill every time I walk within 100 feet of Tom. I am constantly on edge, fearing he’ll be around the corner.” When Tom recently tried to enter a darkroom in which she was working, Sara burst into tears and had to beg her confused professor to ask Tom to leave. She recently learned from Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct that Tom is permitted to resume his role as a freshman programming coordinator.

Sara never reported Tom to the police or procured a rape kit. She told a few close friends, but otherwise kept it to herself. Sara said going to the cops or even talking with a therapist, let alone filing a report of any kind, was too emotionally exhausting to pursue.

Then, at a party, she ran into Natalie, CC ’15, a former girlfriend of Tom’s; Sara had heard rumors of their messy relationship. She couldn’t help but wonder about the nature of their split.

Natalie and Tom started dating in 2011, three weeks into her freshman year at Columbia. They were together, on-and-off, until May of 2012.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, intimate partner violence is a particularly difficult area of sexual assault to measure, because “it often occurs in private, and victims are often reluctant to report incidents because of shame or fear of reprisal.” Columbia’s own definition “includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce…”

Natalie’s relationship with Tom fit both of these definitions: she felt emotionally and sexually exploited, but was unable to identify it as abuse.

She was suffering from serious depression before meeting Tom and had recently ended an emotionally abusive relationship.

She would later wonder whether Tom used her vulnerability to manipulate her. Her fragile state made their “destructive and unhealthy” physical relationship confusing at best. Tom often forcefully pinned her arms back against the mattress during sex; Natalie would cry during and after they slept together. Not until months after their break up did Natalie recognize this as non-consensual intercourse.

Though neither woman had originally considered reporting their alleged assaults, Sara felt terrified for her peers after discovering Tom had assaulted a second person: “I knew if no one punished him, he would keep on raping women… If I didn’t report it, he would keep harming people for the rest of his time on campus. He had to be stopped. That’s why I decided to report it.”

The two women filed with Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct: Sara on April 18, 2013, under “non-consensual sexual intercourse”; Natalie did the same on April 25, 2013 under “intimate partner violence” and “non-consensual sexual intercourse.”

Within five days of a complaint being filed with Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct, specially trained investigator(s) designated by the Assistant Director of Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct, Rosalie Siler, begin to gather “pertinent documentation materials” from both respondent and complainant. This information includes interviews with both parties as well any communication (text messages, emails) shared between the two students relating to the alleged assault. Interviews are also conducted with friends of the involved students who were told about the alleged assault.

Natalie

“A specially trained investigator(s) designated by the Assistant Director will interview the complainant, respondent, and any witnesses…This investigator(s) will also gather any pertinent documentation materials. The investigator(s) will then prepare a report detailing the relevant content from the interviews and the documentation materials gathered.” — Columbia University, Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct Policies for Students

Natalie was interviewed by one of Columbia’s neutral third party Title IX Investigators, Jilleian Sessions-Stackhouse. She was asked to dictate her narrative to Sessions-Stackhouse, who took notes by hand and without a recording device.

This fallible method of recording interviews seems an odd choice in investigating such serious alleged crimes. “She would write things down that were abbreviations of what I said,” Natalie recalled. “Things that weren’t correct. It didn’t come out coherently. It didn’t sound like a strong case.” Survivors of sexual assault often express that deciding when, how, and in what words their assault occurred is of the utmost importance. For Natalie, the holes in the transcript of her interview not only weakened her story but kept her from having ownership over the retelling of her history with emotional and sexual violence.

Because Natalie reported only two weeks before the end of the spring semester, the Office “wanted to get the case over with before the summer started. It felt very last minute,” she said.

Exhausted from final exams and moving out of her dorm for the summer vacation, Natalie told Student Services she wasn’t in the best mental or emotional space to represent herself and would rather push the hearing until after she had time to recuperate over vacation. Natalie remembers Sessions-Stackhouse encouraging her to speed up the investigation by participating more actively: “Jilleian told me, ‘You’re not going to want to have to think about this over the summer.’”

“The panel uses “preponderance of evidence” as the standard of proof to determine whether a policy violation occurred. Preponderance of evidence means that a panel must be convinced based on the information provided that a policy violation was more likely to have occurred than to not have occurred in order to find a student responsible for violating a policy.” — Columbia University, Gender-Based Misconduct Policies for Students

Complainants are given the opportunity to review and comment on the respondent’s statement regarding the case. Sessions-Stackhouse suggested that, if Natalie wasn’t prepared to dissect Tom’s statement, that she simply come in and make “Xs” in the margins to mark places where she disagreed with his version of the story, according to Natalie.

Natalie asked if she might take a copy of Tom’s statement home, to more carefully consider her response. Siler told her that students are not permitted to remove any materials relating to their case from the Office of Gender Misconduct and proposed that Sessions-Stackhouse simply read Tom’s letter to Natalie over the phone.

The logistics of coordinating private phone calls across times zones nine hours apart and around her family seemed an emotional burden too taxing to manage. “After a month of that huge mental space being taken up by that office, I couldn’t let it follow me,” she said. Assuming that (as it had when Tom postponed Sara’s case to spent the summer outside of New York) the investigation would be postponed until she was ready to participate and returned to Columbia in the fall, Natalie stopped returning Sessions-Stackhouse’s emails asking her to call and discuss the case, essentially removing herself from the investigation.

Natalie was surprised to receive a letter from Siler that seemed to end the case before it began: “Based on the information available from the investigation, there is not sufficient information to indicate that reasonable suspicion exists to believe that a policy violation occurred.”

Student Services never contacted the witness, a friend with whom Natalie had discussed Tom’s alleged abuse during their relationship, that Natalie provided.

With the case closed, Tom regained access to residence halls after a temporary restriction during the investigation. Natalie earned Incompletes in half of her classes that spring.

Illustration by Alexander Pines, CC'16

Illustration by Alexander Pines, CC’16

Sara

“Every effort will be made to convene a hearing panel as soon as practicable following the conclusion of the investigation—ideally within thirty (30) calendar days after the receipt of the initial report…Timelines may vary depending on the details of the case and at certain times of the academic year (e.g. during break periods, final exam time, etc.). ” — Columbia University, “Gender-Based Misconduct Policies for Students”

Sara’s case took seven months. “They dragged it on… torturing me, just to tell me ‘no.’ He gets no punishment at all.” Sara reported her rape to Columbia on April 18, 2013. Tom was found “not responsible” on November 8.

Sara appealed the hearing panel’s findings. In the case of an appeal, final decisions regarding responsibility in sexual assault cases are made by either Terry Martinez, Dean of Student Affairs or James Valentini, Dean of Columbia College. Oddly, neither is physically present for the judiciary hearing. Instead, as Siler stated during an informational panel about the assault policy, Valentini “has access to the investigative report and information related to the hearing.”

Sara described Tom’s evasion of the hearing in her letter of appeal to Dean Valentini, arguing that, as the maxim goes, justice delayed is justice denied: Tom’s twice postponement of the hearing due to “academic conflicts” violated her right to a hearing “ideally within 30 days of the initial report.”

Further, as in Natalie’s case, the Title IX Investigator, Jilleian Sessions-Stackhouse, assigned to Sara’s case, recorded her story during their first interview manually. Sara watched Sessions-Stackhouse’s hand scribbling notes across a page and saw that she made glaring errors in her transcription. “I would be describing the position I was in when he raped me and her hand just wouldn’t move. She wouldn’t write it down. That’s important stuff.”

It was important enough that the investigator had to call Sara for subsequent interviews to fill in the details she missed the first time around. Sara’s file was complicated by the fact that her story was collected during multiple interviews, spread in bits and pieces across a thick packet of paper. Two addendums, stapled to the back of the packet, corrected the typos and misspellings included in the investigator’s original transcription of Sara’s interview. By contrast, Tom wrote his own explanatory statement in addition to the Title IX investigative interview: concise, carefully written, and legally-advised, it could be found easily in a single spot by members of the hearing panel.

It is unclear why Tom was allowed to include an independent additional statement in the investigative report, but the discrepancy seems to contradict the policy’s mandate to ensure balanced hearings.

“Hearing panelists receive specialized training focused on topics related to gender-based and sexual misconduct, how to facilitate the hearing process, and how to make decisions in the process.” — Columbia University, Hearing Panel Application

Sara stood before the threesome of “specially trained panelists”—in her case, all faculty members—who determine the responsibility of the respondent. She was feeling confident. The panelists thanked her for her time and told her they knew it was hard for her to be there. They seemed sympathetic to her story and invested in hearing her voice.

Her confidence plummeted after one of the first questions asked by a panelist who seemed confused about the nature of rape itself: “Did he use lubrication? I don’t understand how it’s possible to have anal sex without using lubrication first,” Sara recalled the panelist saying.

Sara was stunned. “Rape is the use of force. You just shove it in and it hurts like hell and that’s why I was screaming… I couldn’t believe it was my responsibility to educate them about that,” she said.

In situations where the University becomes aware of a pattern of behavior by one or more respondents, the University will take appropriate action in an attempt to protect the University community. — Columbia University, “Gender-Based Misconduct Policies for Students”

Finally, there was the evidence not considered relevant in the judiciary hearing. One of Sara’s main reasons for choosing to report was her awareness of assaults on other students.

As Arkin, her lawyer, put it, “Prior similar acts are powerful evidence of bad intentions.”

After reconvening the hearing panel to clarify their finding that Tom was not responsible, Dean Valentini wrote to Sara to deny her appeal:

“I have…concluded that the new evidence you have submitted [relating to Tom’s alleged repeat offenses with sexual violence] does not meet the standard [of overturning a panel’s original decision].”

In fact, Tom was the respondent in a third case filed with Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct. According to Valentini, three independent accusations of Tom’s sexual aggression did not constitute a pattern of behavior admissible in Sara’s case.

However, Tom was found responsible in the third case. That is, until Dean Valentini upheld Tom’s appeal, overturning the panel’s recommendation.

Josie

“The three grounds upon which an appeal of the decision and/or sanctions may be made are:

  1. The student believes a procedural error occurred, which the student feels may change or affect the outcome of the decision;
  2. The student has substantive new evidence that was not available at the time of the hearing and that may change the outcome of the decision;
  3. The student feels that the severity of the sanction is inappropriate given the details of the case.”

— Columbia University, Gender-Based Misconduct Policies for Students

Josie, BC ’13, was bartending a party in April of 2012. She went upstairs to bring down more beer to restock the bar. Tom, drunk, followed her; she hadn’t asked him to join her, but his offer to help retrieve the PBR seemed friendly enough. He came into the room behind her, shut the door, and flicked off the lights. She asked him what he was doing. He moved toward her aggressively, grabbed her arms, saying, ‘Come on,’ and tried to kiss her. She pushed him off and rushed from the room as quickly as she could.

Josie wrote it off as creepy, drunken aggression. She told some close friends how unnerved she was, but Tom left her alone after that night. “I wasn’t emotionally scarred or anything. I’m used to people grabbing my ass in bars—that’s the shitty state of the world today. Honestly, I didn’t even think it was a reportable offense covered by the misconduct policy,” she said.

But when a mutual friend of hers and Tom’s told Josie that she heard he was participating in a hearing panel related to sexual assault, something clicked. “What if I wasn’t as tall and strong as I am? What if I was really drunk? Those ideas made me very scared for other women,” she remembered thinking.

And so, in the spring of her senior year, Josie approached Siler about filing a complaint.

Although the hearing was postponed until after summer break (and after she had graduated from Barnard), Josie felt good about the process. Sessions-Stackhouse was attentive during her interviews. She felt supported by the “distinctly unbiased” three-faculty hearing panel.

Still, for Josie, the hearing was almost “more emotionally draining than the event itself… The possibility that people think you’re not telling the truth, especially about something so traumatic and intense is very scary. You don’t want these smart, objective people to look at the evidence and say, ‘We can’t convict this person.’ ”

The panel found Tom responsible, but it wasn’t exactly cathartic for Josie. Tom received a “disciplinary probation” sanction. A consequence of little concrete impact, the cautionary reprimand is a warning for the future, rather than a response to past offenses. It ambiguously states: “further violation of University policies…will likely result in more serious disciplinary action.”

“It didn’t change that something shitty happened to me or that he’s walking around. But it did feel good that the system worked…And then the feeling when they were listening to his appeal and they gave it to him was the worst feeling in the world,” said Josie.

By the time Tom filed an appeal to reduce his sanction in late November, Josie was employed full-time. Coming to Columbia to review the new investigative report between the hours of 9 and 5 was simply not an option.

The Office worked to accommodate her busy schedule; Melissa Rooker, Columbia’s Title IX Coordinator, went so far as to set up a special website on which Josie could review the file during her lunch hour. But reading documents on her work computer that described the intimate details of her assault felt unsafe.

She sent Rooker an email: “I’ve decided that I actually do not want to review the file or be involved with the process from this point forward. I made my case and I stand by my account of the events.”

The consequence of that decision may have cost Josie the appeal. Rooker responded quickly, telling Josie that the new hearing panel that would manage the appeal hearing, comprised of entirely different faculty members, none of whom were present during the initial hearing, would not have access to “any information regarding the previous investigation, the statements [Josie] made to the previous hearing panel or the rationale or [sic] the previous hearing panel’s decision. The [new] report contains your allegations and the answers to the clarifying questions you provided to Michael [Dunn, Josie’s new Title IX Investigator] last month,” Rooker wrote in an email to Josie.

Josie felt the hours and emotion she devoted to the first hearing were wasted. Though she could re-submit the statement included in the first investigative report, any questions she answered for the panel or comments she made to clarify and explain her experience would not be included as valid evidence. Nor, given her work schedule, would she have an opportunity to engage with the panel again. Instead, the panel would have access only to the original question and answer interview between her and Dunn.

“I was surprised that they listened to the appeal; I was not surprised that they overturned it. I wasn’t there. My testimony was not included. It was different panelists,” she said.

Then Josie received a letter, dated December 17, 2013, informing her of the hearing results, but the contents were confusing: they seemed to indicate that Josie had violated the misconduct policy.

“We were unable to determine that it was more likely than not that you engaged in behavior that meets the definition of sexual assault: non-consensual sexual contact. Therefore, the charge has been dismissed,” the letter, written by Virginia Ryan, the Interim Assistant Director of Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct.

The office had sent Josie the letter intended for Tom.

Josie was stunned by the callousness of such a mistake. Mostly, she wondered whether such sloppiness extended to other areas of her case: “What kind of a mix up is that? Makes one wonder, doesn’t it?”

All interview requests with any Columbia offices related to sexual assault—including the Rape Crisis Center, a confidential reporting service available to and run by students—were directed to Phung Tran, the Columbia Health Communications Manager. After six weeks of email exchange and a request that I pre-submit interview questions, which were “vetted by the department and senior staff,” Ms. Tran denied me a meeting with Rosalie Siler; La’Shawn Rivera, the Director of the Rape Crisis Center; or Melissa Rooker, Columbia’s Title IX Coordinator.

I sent a list of clarifying questions regarding the specific practices of Title IX Investigators, the standard of evidence needed to establish a “pattern of behavior,” and the rationale behind an appeal process that disregards previously obtained testimony. I was again declined an interview, and referred back to the policy.

Ms. Tran did not respond to questions regarding how the office ensures a balanced case, what informs the judiciary hearing process, or how effectively the office accommodates the concerns of both complainant and respondent.

In place of my first interview request, Ms. Tran attached a ten-paragraph written statement, responding primarily to a petition the Columbia University Democrats circulated during the fall semester, demanding that Columbia disclose “the number and nature of sexual assaults, rapes, and incidents of gender-based harassment and misconduct.” The statement described the interest of the President’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault (PACSA) on forming a subcommittee of student leaders interested in discussing the policy.

Further, it expressed concern that disclosing such statistics might infringe on the privacy of students, fearing that it might cause individuals involved in a judiciary hearing “to feel as if their cases have been identified and broadcast publicly to the community” but recognizing the “vital importance” of “candid discussions” surrounding sexual assault at Columbia.

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97 Comments

  1. BCgrad

    This is a really interesting article - as someone who has experienced this procedure firsthand, it really brings up a lot of terrible memories - rushing me to the hearing, abbreviating things I've said, etc.. It was honestly a terribly unfair process but I'm glad that attention is being brought to the way these cases are being handled.

    • Ted

      yo who wants the D?? ;)

      • OJ's Wife Never Got A Trigger Warning

        As a brave, trans-Asian, self-diagnosed pansexual demiromantic vegan multisouled person, I find your comments utterly offensive.

        • Excitable Boy

          This article is offensive because it only focuses on straight cis white females and their cis tears. As a queer gender fluid person of color I've got to say way to make everyone else who has been raped feel left out. Especially since I think I was raped by the same guy, Tim, when he was in a bi-curious phase. BTW that whole procedure you're talking about where people listen to you and adjudicate your complaint. Yeah that DOESN'T exist for US. So go fill a river with your cis-tears but don't expect queer poc to care about it.

  2. Anonymous

    WOW this needs a trigger warning. you explicitly detail sexual assault and rape in the beginning. if we're going to advocate for sexual assault survivors, you need to write w/ acknowledgement their potential needs and triggers holy shit. "rape" is not a hook. jesus h christ.

    • Anna Bahr  (Bwog Staff)  

      You're absolutely right--trigger warning added.

      • not the original commenter  

        It also might be helpful to make the trigger warning more specific: i.e. trigger warning for accounts of sexual assault on campus (as the article is definitely quite graphic re: descriptions of sexual assault in a way that people might want to be warned about, especially survivors). This is definitely a very important and well-researched article, so thanks for doing what you're doing.

    • I think  

      That was unnecessarily combative.

    • Anonymous

      Let me tell you a story:

      A white heteronormative cisgendered CEO professor and Baptist preacher was teaching a class on Karl Rove, known Christian. "Before the class begins, you must get on your knees and worship Jesus Christ and accept that you too can become straight through daily prayer, self-flagellation, and eating Chik-Fil-A every day!" At this moment, a brave, trans-Asian, self-diagnosed pansexual demiromantic vegan multisouled person who had been free of all animal products and only bought products at the local transgender co-op boldly stood up, holding a glass filled with some white liquid. "Hey, Professor, what is this?" The arrogant professor smirked like a rapist and smugly replied “It's clearly milk, you crazy homo. What the fuck does milk have to do with political science?" "Wrong. It’s an all natural vegan soy almond kombucha latte. No animals or transpeople were harmed or raped in the making of this product." The professor was visibly shaken, and dropped his chalk and copy of the Wall Street Journal. He stormed out of the room, clearly planning some kind of rape. The professor realized that he had been playing into the hands of the kyriarchy of CEOs, investment bankers, the Religious Right, and psychiatrists. He then killed himself. The proper term for this is "trans-dead". The students checked their privilege, all diagnosed themselves with autism and gender identity disorder and joined the Gay-Straight Alliance. An obese trans-eagle furry otherkin waddled into the room and tried to perch upon the American Flag, bending the flagpole in the process. All parties involved gave up meat, Christianity, and the right to bear arms.

  3. me  

    Columbia administration is a piece of shit and they run this place like a fucking corporation fuck you CU for making these victim's experiences worse than they already were; YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED and we should have CAMPUS WIDE PROTESTS AGAINST THIS MASSIVE COVER UP

  4. This  

    Is some fantastic reporting. Amazing job, Anna. Proud to say that I go to the same school as someone with such talent.

  5. Hey, Anna

    Thank you so much for writing this. This means the world to all the sexual assault victims on our campus that locked up in their silence.

  6. CC'14  

    This is an amazing piece, thank you. After reading it I feel sick to my stomach and am disgusted by the disrespect shown to the survivors.

  7. wow  

    I had no idea what the processes were at Columbia (to be honest, I never bothered to check) but I'm glad I read this because it's putting everything I'm hearing into context... thanks so much for the reporting. You've just made me more aware of a process that could affect all of us.

  8. Great Reporting

    This is a stunningly good piece of writing. I only wish that during my time at Columbia someone had written such a piece; really think it would have helped those who felt similarly let down by Columbia's sexual assault 'trial process.' Truly ashamed of my alma mater's administration while truly proud of the students it produces.

  9. appalled  

    Though I suppose we do not know Tom's side of the story from the narrative above, what is written is absolutely disgusting. Given that, on a national scale, one in four women will be the victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault while in college, it seems stupid for any university to pretend that it doesn't happen. Columbia would do well to seek to be recognized as a university that is taking a stand against "gender-based misconduct" and ensuring that justice is served instead of trying to preserve a pristine image.

    • Skeptical about statistics  

      1/4 cannot possibly be a correct statistic. It would imply that the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in which 1/2 of women have suffered rape, has only 2x the rate of sexual assault as American universities. I might remind you that the Congo is a literal warzone where mass rape is routinely used as a weapon of genocide.

      • Anon

        1 in 4 is a widely known statistic. Commonly, writers will say 20-25%. Google it.

        • Anonymous  

          The 1/4 statistic results from a study in which a researcher classified students who very explicitly said that they had not been raped as being raped. I think the students who underwent the experiences have better knowledge of their situation than the researcher, and trust their judgment over her judgment. The actual rate is about 1/400, which is still too high (even one rape is still too high), but it is not 1/4.

          • 1 out of 400?

            Solely from firsthand evidence within my own circle of friends, I can confidently say that 1 out of every 4 of them has experienced some form of sexual assault and that this is not nearly an exaggeration. Even if you don't believe the well-researched and thoroughly cited statistics of a nation-wide poll (also keeping in mind that these statistics don't include unreported cases), I guarantee that if you held a poll within a group of 15 friends the numbers would be eye-opening to you. A number such as 1 out of 400 is exponentially less believable than 1 out of 4. I guarantee that sitting in some of your 20-30 person classes, there is much more than one victim of rape or sexual assault.

        • Anonymous  

          Why is the article condemning the preponderance of evidence standard? That is already 100% lower than the legal standard of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? What standard should be used instead-none?

        • anon

          @Anon: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf
          Page 18.
          18.3% of United States women have been raped in their lifetime. OP also stacked bullshit on top of bullshit by claiming that "one in four women will be the victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault while in college". Which is obviously even less true than it would have been had 25% of women been raped in their lifetime.
          What really concerns me is the sheer error on the numbers that are being quoted. This could only be the result of deliberate inflation of the numbers, or willing ignorance of reality. Misrepresentations such as this, which are spread on such a large scale and without question, undermine the credibility of the entire campaign against sexual violence.

  10. anon  

    Great read, good reporting, and this issue definitely needs to be in the spotlight. I think the biggest problem with many of these cases Columbia hears is that there is not much evidence beside a he said, she said type argument. In a court of law in the U.S. the burden of proof is put on the plaintiff and there must be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to convict someone of a crime. I assume Columbia follows a somewhat similar system when hearing these crimes. It is oftentimes very difficult or even impossible for a victim to prove they were sexually assaulted especially after some time has passed since the event. This is the biggest problem with dealing with these cases, it is so hard to prove who is telling the truth and who is lying. A legitimate case could be brought before the committee (probably most of the time) or a case where an angry ex/friend is trying to ruin a person's life. It is not unrealistic that a group of angry people can accuse someone of rape as a form of revenge. The question is how do we decide between the two and I am not sure there is a good answer to that, but I would agree that it is better to have ten guilty persons go free than that one innocent suffer.

    • Your "ten guilty people going free is better than one innocent person suffering" comment disturbs me so much. A crucial point that I cannot believe you didn't glean from this article is that when rapists don't face consequences and continue to occupy spaces on the same college campuses, the survivors DO suffer.
      And that whole thing about reporting a sexual assault to "get back" at a friend or ex...just stop. It was abundantly clear from this reporting just what an exhausting and draining process reporting rape is--reporting isn't something to get revenge on someone. Just take a second and reconsider what you just wrote--it's part of the problem.

      • Anonymous

        I agree with you that false accusations are nothing compared to the amount of sexual assaults that do happen. However I think the first part of what anon posted is correct. It's extremely difficult to base a punishment on a he said she said system. Without conclusive evidence you can't really fairly apply punishment to someone. This particular case also seems mired with the delay from both the University and the complainants sides.

        I think with this case "Tom" has been shown to have predatory behavior on multiple occasions but what is it worth if people don't want to follow up with the complaint? I think there is definitely fault on Columbia's part and room for improvement in terms of how swiftly these things go, but on the same token it's hard to put all the blame on them when the complainants in the story postponed their reports for months or didn't show up to hearings.

        If this case had been handled in the legal system there wouldn't be much that could be done if they didn't have forensic evidence or witnesses who skipped interviews or didn't go to court.

        There are areas in which the University could improve. How quickly the process goes, how statements are taken, and ensuring students stay away from each other while these claims are going on are the most glaring ones.

      • anon  

        Well since you bring it up I was in fact a victim of false reported sexual assault in high school. 2 girls thought it would be fun to go to our school principle and say I had touched them against their will. At that time I had never even kissed a girl and had nothing to defend myself with beside saying they were lying. I was expelled from school based off their claims and everyone I had known stopped talking to me and it got to the point where I could not go out in my town without getting verbally abused by people. I had to enroll in a private school an hour away in order to get away from the constant abuse I took. 3 months later one of the girls had a change of heart and admitted she and the other girl had lied about it and even had the text messages saved where they planned the whole thing. The school un-expelled me, but all of my peers and neighbors still treated me like a rapist. After coming back for 2 weeks I had to transfer again because of this abuse I was facing. For the next two years I couldn't even go for a walk outside my house without someone saying something to me. I ended up graduating from that private school, making the 1 hour commute each way every day and getting to go to Columbia, but I can never go back to my hometown. I still to this day cannot become friendly with any females and I do not think I ever will be able to. False accusations do happen to people and it really scars them for the rest of their lives. I am confident if my high school had never expelled me in the first place based of what two people said without any other evidence I would never have gone through all the torment that I did and I would be living a normal life. That is why I think it is important to make sure there is real evidence when someone is charged with sexual assault.

        • survivor

          Since you're bringing up how high schools deal with allegations of sexual violence, I was sexually abused during my freshman year in high school (a quite progressive high school in one of the most "progressive" cities in the country, no less) by a very well respected classmate--he was in line to be valedictorian, he was president of the GSA, he ended up going to Yale... you get the point. During my junior year, one of my very close, trusted friends outed that this classmate had sexually abused me to one of their mutual friends. I was called into my guidance counselor's office (during finals week, to add insult to injury) and the guidance counselor told me to stop "spreading lies about our future valedictorian" and that he (the assailant) was waiting in the lobby to discuss this "situation" with me in a "neutrally mediated way." As I began to break down with a panic attack, I told her that this classmate had, in fact, sexually abused me and that I was not making this up. The guidance counselor continued to lecture me about how sexual violence was "complicated" among teenagers and that it probably wasn't as bad as I said it was and that I needed to never talk to anyone about this "experience" again. When I refused to speak with my assailant, she escorted me out of the office and sent me back to class, traumatized, trembling, and crying, with absolutely no sympathy to speak of.

          So yeah, it sucks that your high school expelled you without proof of that ever happening, but the issue of the methodology that institutions use to deal with and investigate sexual abuse allegations is a double edged sword. On one hand, there is a definite need to protect those who are accused but innocent, but on the other hand, sexual violence DOES happen on quite a regular basis, far more than people are falsely accused. While your situation should have been investigated more thoroughly, any allegation of sexual violence toward another student should be taken seriously and investigated to the full extent the school is capable, as it is the school's job to keep all of its students safe--turning a blind eye toward one of the most horrific crimes a human can commit against another human is not fulfilling this obligation. Your high school definitely should have handled that situation differently, but high school administration (and college administration) also shouldn't write off an allegation of sexual abuse as a young girl trying to get attention or looking for revenge, like my high school did.

  11. Best piece of Writing I've seen from a Student Publication

    Thank you, Anna, for your incredible work.

  12. TWERKIN TRINA  

    THERES NO HEAT AT BARNARD. CUM CUDDLE

  13. Alum

    This is so effing shameful. I can only hope everyone reads this and passes along.

  14. Anonymous  

    What a well done piece. So terribly sad. How can these administrators sleep at night knowing they are enabling an atmosphere conducive to rape? Disgusting

  15. If you are raped/sexually assaulted at CU

    GO TO THE FUCKING POLICE. DON'T FUCKING GO TO THIS SHAM OF A DEPARTMENT "GENDER BASED MISCONDUCT" SHIT. GO TO THE FUCKING NYPD AND THROW THE MOTHERFUCKER IN JAIL.

    • Anonymous  

      If you think this process is bad, imagine what NYPD questioners will do to victims. your name and reputation will be dragged through mud for months

      • Anonymous  

        What are you basing that statement on? If you go to the cops soon after it happened, I'm pretty sure the first thing they'll do is take you to a hospital and give you a rape kit, which can collect actual physical evidence of rape. That's pretty important for actually seeing that the rapist faces consequences.

      • OP

        I work at St Lukes and Roosevelt hospitals as a rape, sexual assault and domestic violence advocate --trust me, the NYPD take all these cases extremely seriously. For the SVU police officers/detectives --this is their JOB. They know how to deal sensitively and correctly with survivors. Moreover any survivor has anonymity in this situation. The most important part is that any hospital will have a rape kit done immediately and then keep it for a year, so the survivor has time to decide whether to go forward with the police investigation or not, but the evidence has already been collected. The fact that Columbia does not do this is abhorrent.

        When I first heard, via a COOP presentation, about this "Gender based Misconduct" place, I was furious. It's just a stupid creation of Columbia's administration so they can sweep anything 'unsavory' under the rug so the Ivy League reputation is kept nice and high. It's gross, ineffective, and insulting to us as students.

        • Kristen

          Thanks for this. If I'm ever assaulted, I will be sure to go straight to the nearest ER demand a rape kit, and report it to the NYPD. (I'm committing to do this now, because I know after an assault I may not have the strength or clarity I do now).

    • Anonymous

      Yes. I went to the police when I was raped and even though it was incredibly difficult, justice was served. Maybe other people don't have the strength or energy to deal with the ordeal of going to the cops, but it's a hell of a lot more effective than letting Columbia address it.

      • Nonny Moose

        @Anonymous: Kudos to you for going to the police, and I'm very glad that it worked out for you. As a close friend of a rape victim who did not go to the police, however, I do ask that you consider the way you have referred to those who choose not to go to the police.

        Unfortunately we do have police officers who are so poorly trained to deal with rape victims that interviews turn into interrogations, with the implicit assumption that the victim attempting to make a report is a lying whore. We continue to live in a culture where women are not supposed to like or want sex, and so women who report rape are still looked upon as girls who 'gave it up' and then 'felt guilty' afterward. And as a society, we expect women to bear the brunt of responsibility in preventing rape by not dressing "provocatively" or acting in any way that could remotely be construed as sexual. There was a case at my graduate school recently where the officer who took a victim's statement told her that there wasn't much he could do because she was wearing a skirt - as though that made the encounter entirely consensual.

        Again, I am glad your situation was resolved and your aggressor got his due. The man who raped my friend had previously raped other students, and continued to rape different women at least once per semester until he graduated. The police reports that were filed, and the amazing strength of the women he victimized to speak out and make their experiences known came to no fruition whatsoever. He continued to visit campus, attend parties, and receive access to dorms with his pals long after he had finished his own education.

    • Anonymous  

      I think this statement is a bit absurd. As someone who's been sexually assaulted by a dear (or so I thought) friend, I can tell you I definitely had no intention of ruining his life. I felt incredibly conflicted about the entire thing, and chose not to say anything versus getting him thrown in jail. Regardless of what he did to me, I loved him and he was important to me. That doesn't change overnight.

      I acknowledge that it SHOULD change overnight, but it doesn't. At least, not always. Please don't scream and curse at someone in my (impossible) position. It may be black and white to you, but it isn't necessarily black and white to a survivor. It just makes me feel worse about the situation, and I wouldn't be surprised if others felt the same way.

  16. perhaps

    It is painfully obvious that one exceedingly minor way the process could be vastly improved is that all statements and interviews should be videotaped and transcripts made.

    Then, this material should be made available to all adjudicators, throughout the entire process. If a second panel reviews the material at a later date it should be required that they review all the video and accompanying transcripts. And, although it shouldn't need to be said, that material should be kept confidential and under lock and key. It should be accessible only to the adjudicators and claimants/respondents should be able to review the transcripts of their own statements for accuracy.

  17. Anonymous

    This Administration harbors a rapist.

  18. Anonymous  

    "Sara stood before the threesome of 'specially trained panelists'"

    I'm sorry, reading the word "threesome" in this article bothered me for some reason. "Trio" perhaps?

  19. Anonymous

    If you are raped , you need to go to the police. It is that simple.

    • Anonymous

      Is this normally discouraged by the University?

    • Anonymous  

      Being raped makes you feel like you've lost some power. You go into shock. You can't think straight. You feel inherently out of control of everything in your life because a few minutes or hours ago, someone told you with their body that what you wanted didn't matter. So it's not that simple. Nothing about it is simple. It's especially not easy when you're hurt and alone to drag yourself to the cops, a group of unknowns who could, to your extremely confused, traumatized psyche, seem threatening.

      Please don't make cut and dry, unsympathetic statements like that. If you want to go to the cops, more power to you. But making a maxim of "you get raped, you go to the police. duh." implies that people who don't go to the police have somehow failed to live up to their duty as rape victims. A survivor's only duty is to get better.

      My two cents.

      • Anonymous

        I didn't mean my question to be approving of a cut and dry decision. I will admit, I do not know much about the university policy, and I was asking because I've heard so many conflicting things. I do apologize if it came across in the wrong way, as it was never intended to.

        • Anonymous  

          Don't worry, buddy. I was replying to the guy above you.
          But to answer your question, in my experience, CPS (which was the first place I went) handled the whole "what next?" thing really well. They lay out all of your options, including the police, in a way that is not demanding. Then they allow you to choose how you want to proceed, and help you to do so. That includes going to the cops.

    • anon  

      While shows like Law and Order might make it seem like all rape happens in a dark alley at knife point, it is not always that cut and dry. Often rapists are friends or even significant others of those who suffer from sexual assault (see http://www.nmcsap.org/statistics.html for more statistics). If you are in a relationship with someone and they rape you, there are countless reasons why you would not want to go to the police; you might still care about them or love them even though they hurt you and don't want them to get into serious legal trouble with a rape accusation, you might think that it was a one-time thing and don't want to permanently ruin your relationship, or maybe you don't even realize that they actually raped you for weeks because shows like law and order have told you that rape doesn't happen between people who have had consensual sex in the past. Please don't belittle the emotional trauma, confusion, and chaos that can surround these incidents. Many more people around you than you realize have probably experienced some degree of sexual assault at some point and just haven't spoken up about it for any number of reasons, and the fact that a student went to the administration to try to take action against 'Tom' alone would take a tremendous amount of determination and bravery.

      • Anonymous  

        don't understand why this is repeatedly considered 'belittling' or that it's black and white or whatnot. it's true, a survivor should only strive to get better however s/he chooses. but if s/he wants to see justice served, s/he SHOULD go to the police. isn't that a better answer than the columbia administration? if s/he does not want to see justice served (in the form of punishment, so that s/he feels safer on campus) then isn't the administration doing exactly that?

        ... not sure why it's not OK to make this point, given the article.

  20. JM

    What young people need to understand is that a crime that happens on campus is STILL A CRIME- you report it to the police, no matter how hard it is. You get a rape kit, and have tangible evidence and a paper trail and a stronger chance of justice. It is in EVERY college/universities interest to intentionally depress the statistics of on campus crime. Thinking that justice in that regard will be served, in my opinion, is naiive. Worrying about "ruining" a RAPIST's life is not a sympathy we should be encouraging in survivors. You rape, you go to jail. Thats it. How is it ethical to desire a rapist avoid the legal system and just hope for their expulsion so you don't have to see them around campus? Its somehow ethical to shepherd them off on other unsuspecting victims? If anything, being expelled would make a patterned violent person more violent. What needs to be stressed here is that colleges provide education. That's it. We have a justice system for justice and everyone should be encouraged to use it, not on campus procedures. This would also mitigate the potential for he said she said, because if victims went to the appropriate authorities straight away, it would be easier to procure physical evidence and potential witnesses than letting time elapse.

    • victim  

      I was raped, and I don't want my rapist to be in jail. Partly because our mutual friends would figure out that I was the one who accused him (this shit doesn't happen in a vacuum) and would retaliate against me, partly because I don't believe in prisons as truly corrective institutions, and because I just want him to understand how he hurt me. Justice means different things to different people, especially in the case of intimate partner violence.

      Not all victims and survivors want the same thing, and the fact that you're criticizing a victim or survivor's choices in recovery instead of channeling that into the way the university handles cases people DO choose to report is fucked up, so stop.

      • I dunno

        "I was raped, and I don't want my rapist to be in jail. Partly because our mutual friends would figure out that I was the one who accused him (this shit doesn't happen in a vacuum) and would retaliate against me..."

        This is going to sound flippant but it is deadly serious: you need to find some new friends. Life is too short to associate yourself with "friends" who believe that a proper, reasoned response to your situation is retailiation.

        • Anonymous

          maybe she just doesn't want to deal with the reaction, even if the reaction is "omg,poor you, congratulations, you're so brave". Would you? Some people just don't like that stuff, whether it's because they were raped or because someone in their family died. They prefer to keep it low key. And who are we to tell them that they should be open about their grief?

          • I dunno

            Then that's what she should have said. Assuming she's going to Barnard/Columbia, she is smart enough and, likely, a good enough writer to express herself with some exactitude when addressing such a serious subject.

  21. Anonymous  

    I guess I wouldn't say I highly dislike it but I think the only part of this that I think is valuable are the stories told by students. It's great that Bwog took the time to find their stories and give them a platform to share those stories one, esp as I've also been through this process and they are horribly disorganized and do not inform students of their rights well at all. But literally everything that IS NOT coming from a survivor that is even related to this article is just alarming or disappointing:

    (1) Everyone's reactions to this article--downvoting my comment saying that I have a different opinion and do not want to be spoken for, downvoting/trying to hush someone who asked for a trigger warning, demanding that people who are assaulted "go to the police and throw them in jail"--all of that is part of the problem surrounding sexual assault response where victims actual needs and wishes are not being listened to.

    (2) I'll repeat that the accounts from the students on their experiences in hearings and judiciary processes are brave and valuable. I think they adequately reflect the disorganization and outright mistreatment by the office to students who report, including me. However, much of the color reporting is outrage mongering that similarly does not account for the needs of victims.

    A few examples:
    --The author strung together technically true inflammatory statements to garner outrage. Ex: "New York State, first-degree rape is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 25 years. At Columbia, a student found responsible for rape, groping, or harassment could potentially receive the same punishment given to underage students found in possession of alcohol." Yes this is true. But look at the definition of first-degree rape--it does not match the story that this sentence is found in. There are also a range of punishments for violations that include harassment---a much smaller violation than assault, rape, or "first-degree rape.

    --The author says that rape is replaced with a muted euphemism. YES, and it absolutely should be! Rape is a loaded term. Many people have a specific idea of what it looks like. Many sexual assault survivors do not, in the moment, identify what happened to them as "rape" which many people equate with mere physical force or a victim struggling to resist. Calling it non-consensual sex is less emotionally charged and is meant to inspire a broader idea of what is sexual assault, such as people who were physically or mentally incapacitated or who were to afraid to physically resist. This is a GOOD thing.

    (3) The article says that the "University values discretion over justice." Just before that, a survivor said that they thought going to the university "would be more private" than going to the police. Many survivors actually ARE asking for discretion and privacy and that's why they go through the university. However, privacy sacrifices investigative ability. I am not defending the university here--but I see absolutely NO discussion about how to balance discretion with justice even though many survivors are specifically asking for discretion. How do we balance the two? Do we go to any lengths to punish offenders no matter what sacrifices discretion (ordering survivors to have rape kits? publicly subpoenaing anyone who might know anything to testify?)? This is something that demands discussion!!! what do we want? what will most benefit survivors who are looking for an option more private than the police but still offer protection? how does protecting their privacy interfere with our ability to punish? I certainly don't have the answers but this article and its commenters are definitely not asking the questions.

    This is just from my initial reaction and reading...

    • Anonymous

      To your third point I would direct you to the paragraph in which the author explicitly explains why survivors might want discretion...she acknowledges that point directly and fairly

    • Thank you

      As a survivor, I was very happy for the accounts that were relayed in here but I completely agree with you that this comment that it doesn't do the issue complete justice, and that the downvoting of people who aren't talking "nicely enough" is out of hand (just another form of indirect tone-policing). And I 100% back you up on calling it "non-consensual sex" rather than rape. Too many times people think that there NEEDS to be physical struggle or restraint for it to constitute as rape. There doesn't need to be. In fact, that was my incident with sexual assault. I was just sitting in my chair working on my laptop and the guy I was dating at the time kept trying to come on to me by brushing his d*** on my shoulder. I wasn't paying attention. And then after I'd half-ignored him for three minutes, he said, "What, do I have to rape you?" I swatted his hands away from me. But I really was scared in that moment. And he pulled my laptop from my hands. I didn't know what to do. I was scared he would physically restrain me so I thought it would be better to just do what he wanted me to do. It really, really hurt, and was really rough. After it was done, I was so confused for the rest of the day and burst out crying in the street. I didn't know why. It took me months to realize this was non-consensual sex. Because the word "rape" had felt too limiting and inappropriate for my situation, I was unable to find the language to describe what had happened to me.

      Now that I've done my part by cutting a piece of myself here and feeding it to the comment threads, I just really hope everyone knows that sexual assault is so much more than what we associate with "rape."

      • OP  

        @Thank you: Thank YOU for sharing your story, even anonymously.


        I get that no article can do this issue complete jusice--but I ultimately feel like this article is just "criticize the entire institution." A little bit of depth into why it is the way it is, what's wrong with it, and what it should be like goes a long way. Part of the reason why the institution is so slow and broken is because the issue it's responding to is complicated. Part of the reason why it's broken is because it's just broken and needs to be changed. Part of the reason why it's broken is because it's attempting to balance competing interests...and perhaps it is attempting to strike the wrong balance or attempting to the strike the right one and missing it. But without that depth, it's really just lashing out at every part of the system, including those that are there to protect the interests of survivors (even when protecting those interests necessarily leads to less than ideal results).

        • Mmhmm

          Exactly. The outrage students direct at the University also ignores that we are ALL complicit -- or have been complicit -- at least once in this system. It's easy for the commenters to call out rapists and say "Go to the police so you can haul his ass to jail!" but if their own friend sexually assaulted someone, they may have a different reaction. The vast majority of sexual assault perpetrators aren't evil. They're not serial rapists. They're people we're acquaintances with, we're friends with, and they may even be us, even if we had no intentions to sexually assault someone at all. That's what makes the issue of sexual assault far more complex. Nobody involved is objectively "good guy" or a "bad guy" just by merely being a survivor or a perpetrator.

  22. Alum

    This is beyond embarrassing. The administration of Columbia should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves and their handling of this situation. The individual in question is an embarrassment to Columbia University, and it would sicken me to think that this piece of excrement (actually, that's much too generous) could dare walk the same beautiful campus as these young women or myself. These women deserve justice.

  23. :)  

    I really appreciate this. Thanks.

  24. seas '14

    Thoughts so far:

    1. Regarding: non-recorded interviews, lack of transference of various statements/evidence/etc between hearings

    As someone mentioned above, this is such a minor thing that could be fixed and make the process so much smoother and less stressful. Columbia, you have a law school across the street. MAYBE GET THEIR ADVICE.

    2. I find the discussion in the comments about the rewording of the legal terms really interesting. NY State penal law uses the terms "rape" and "sexual abuse". By moving away from that ("non-consensual sexual intercourse" and "non-consensual sexual contact", respectively), are we successfully widening people's understanding and knowledge of sexual assault, as discussed above? Or does the act of choosing new titles subconsciously create an environment which considers these acts as not truly criminal? Is it both?

    3. Does anyone know of a school that DOES have a non-shameful Sexual Misconduct Department?

    • Kristen

      I heard Yale has some initiatives, but I'm not sure how good..

      • meb

        I'm an alum of Washington University in St. Louis, and it's my information that the school has a comparatively very good process, resulting in higher stats than many similar schools, which actually discourages applicants. The university has had a hard time making it clear that more reported incidents doesn't necessarily mean more incidents occurred. The school also tends to have a reputation for overreacting, but friends who have been through its process of reporting assault have had generally positive things to say.

  25. Anonymous

    I don't know if the law as it stands now is really equipped to handle sexual assault. The legal system (and the legal-lite process the Office of Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct uses) goes back a thousand years, the sexual revolution goes back fifty.

    The used to be hardly any crimes where the only witnesses were the perpetrator and the victim where there wasn't obvious material evidence (you murder me, I'm dead). Marital rape was legally impossible, adultery was generally illegal, and if you were a woman having sex before marriage you'd be slutshamed from orbit if you tried to press charges. Boo patriarchy.

    So "he said, she said" is kind of a new thing which wasn't around when the system was made up. What are you going to do? Are you going to weaken presumption of innocence, or are you going to keep it the same, knowing that you won't have sufficient evidence for a ton of assaults that did happen? Or some get-this-dude-away-from-me, make-survivor-as-well-as-they-can procedure with a really low bar? Columbia seems to be trying to do the some variation of the last but they can't even maintain a wrist slap.

  26. JM

    @victim:

    My message got truncated, but the TLDR, if you don't want to seek justice, punitively, that's fine, but for those that do, they should go to the proper authorities, as I wish I had. My comment wasn't applying to those who choose not to report sexual violence. Many who do simply go down the wrong avenues through no fault of their own and the intentional misguidance from their institutions. Myself included. I personally think, but hey hindsight is 20 20, that patterned violent persons are not my personal responsibility to rehabilitate. They are criminals that in my opinion should be treated accordingly. It is my responsibility to use my voice in the way I deem best, and I wish I had used mine in the right avenue to protect other would be victims, even if that made me a pariah and a target. But of course everyone's situation is different. But I feel that the women described in this article were also looking for justice and protection from their attacker and just went to the wrong place. Which upsets me , not at them, but at the institution for betraying their trust, and furthering their pain .

  27. Kristen

    Thank you all for discussing this important issue.

    It is crucial to be informed about our resources BEFORE the assault happens, so hopefully we can all work together as a community to combat sexual violence. I wish CU would do more to make its students safe. You'd think with so many women in Barnard and Teachers College, that women's issues would be a priority at CU. I hope everyone writes their student senate and anyone who will listen, so we can fuel some positive changes.

  28. Blunts in Butler  

    Dude, I got in more trouble for hotboxing my room in the LLC.

    I'm pretty sure being a sociopath rapist is definitely a lot more serious than a little bud. But I guess the administration knows best... I'm just a stoner.

    • Alum '12

      True story. Columbia went to great lengths to make sure justice was served when I smoked marijuana in my dorm room. They did a full investigation, pulled my swipe records, even contacted the neighbors in my dorm hall.

      Their priorities are stunning. I can't help but laugh that the disciplinary sanction I received mirrors that of a serial rapist. (Strictly speaking, I received "conditional" disciplinary probation; but then, strictly speaking, Tom did not receive any sanction at all.)

  29. Source  

    The 1/4 statistic is not from a well-established study. If you think it is, I would like a LINK to the study. I am also not interested in anecdotes or unverifiable personal testimony. The 1/4 statistic was based on a magazine poll by Mary Koss in 1985. Not only is this study dubious because Koss classified individuals who very explicitly said that they were not raped as raped, but also this study is 30 years old (it belongs to our parents' generation, not our generation), so even if it was true at the time, there is no reason that we should believe it is true today unless a real study verifies it.

    Note that the real rate, 1/400, is still unacceptable and needs to be reduced. It is not, however, the 1/4 rate that everyone claims.

    Link: http://brown-spectator.com/2013/04/lies-damn-lies-and-rape-statistics/

    • Statistics

      Here is a link to the Koss study: http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/ccp/55/2/162/. It is legitimate.

      For anyone interested in statistics in this area, I'd recommend "Unsafe in the Ivory Tower: The Sexual Victimization of College Women" by Fisher, Daigle, and Cullen. It provides an overview of almost every major survey on college sexual assault in the US, including the Koss study. Lots of studies use different definitions of rape/sexual assault and ask the question in different ways, so there’s a huge amount of variability in estimates of prevalence.

      On the ¼ statistic: While Koss's research was published in a magazine and conducted with funding from a magazine, her sampling methodology was actually very rigorous. Her questions about rape were modeled after the legal standard of rape, and while three quarters of survivors in the survey chose not to label their experiences as rape, they did meet the legal definition under Ohio law. There are legitimate criticisms of Koss’s study- namely, the wording of her question around the involvement of alcohol or drug to incapacitate the survivor could have been a bit confusing. But even if you remove all of respondents that might have been confused by that question and/or intentionally incapacitated with drugs by their assailant, her study would have found that 9.3% of college women were legally raped every single year. The 1 in 4 stat is from Koss’s study, but it refers to the percentage of college women that had been raped since age 14, not the percentage who experienced it in college (although if you extrapolate the 9.3% out, you'd expect it to be about 1/4 during one's college career, allowing for some repeat victimization).

      On the more recent stats question- they do exist. Fisher et al conducted the National College Women Sexual Victimization Survey, surveying students during the 1996-1997 year (https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf). They found that 2% of college women are raped every year. Their definition of rape required that the perpetrator either use physical force or threaten physical force, and that some sort of penetration occurred. So it would not include instances of someone saying “no” or “stop” and being ignored, or any instances in which the survivor was unable to give consent.

      Krebs et al also conducted a survey (https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/221153.pdf) of female students at two major universities in the winter of 2006. They found that 19% of female students had experienced either attempted (12.6%) or completed (13.7%) sexual assault while in college (and the sample included freshmen). 5% had been forcibly sexually assaulted in college, with 3.4% experiencing forced rape and 1.4% experiencing forced sexual battery. Around 11% experienced sexual assault while incapacitated. These estimates also do not include instances when someone said “stop” or “no” and was ignored if no physical force was used, nor do they include instances where a sober person was never given an opportunity to express consent or lack thereof, nor do they include instances of sexual coercion.

      Sexual assault happens to college men too, but it seems like almost no one has studied it.

  30. Anonymous

    Universities (public or private) should not be allowed to adjudicate over charges of rape. There ought to be federal legislation preventing this - just appalling.

  31. Survivor

    I would just like to point out why I believe it is extremely problematic for people to say that every person who is sexually assaulted must immediately go to the police/hospital. Yes, I understand that in our current legal system/society it is more likely that someone who committed sexual assault will be punished if the victim immediately goes to the police/hospital. However, saying that all victims of sexual assault must immediately go to the police/hospital is once again putting all of the responsibility on the survivor to end rape/rape culture. It is just like saying that if only more survivors spoke about their assaults that rape culture would be dismantled. If survivors want to go to the police/hospital or speak publicly about their experiences that's wonderful, but it isn't the survivors' responsibility to end rape culture, it should be everyone's responsibility.

    When I hear stuff like this from people I feel even further victimized and stigmatized. For me, talking about my rape is extremely emotional and very traumatizing (which, by the way, happened at Columbia). Very few people that I am close to do not even know that I was assaulted. Having people essentially tell me that I'm not a good survival of sexual assault because I didn't immediately go to the police/hospital or because I don't like speaking about my assault publicly is just ridiculous. For some people, including me, even thinking about my assault is traumatizing. It is ludicrous to expect all people who have been assaulted to feel comfortable speaking about their experiences publicly, or to feel comfortable enough immediately after their assault to tell a bunch or strangers about it and have more strangers swab and prod their bodily cavities.

  32. ok, but  

    I get where you're coming from, but whose responsibility should it be to report a crime committed against you if not yours? Obviously in terms of prevention there should be more done targeting rapists rather than victims, this makes sense. But in terms of reporting it...it's not like the rapists are going to come forward and turn themselves in. I'm not saying you should be forced to become a speakerbox on the issue, that's ridiculous to ask of someone, just that by reporting a rapist they can be punished and prevented from doing the same to others. Also by going to a hospital you can be taken care of and get proper evidence. Really just confused about your rationale here, no harm intended and I hope you're doing alright

  33. Anonymous

    Rape: don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.

  34. CC '13

    Baseball player or troll?

  35. Anon

    Troll indeed, but a broken clock is right at least two times a day. One of the fruitful things that CU could improve on is educating that these things should be reported as soon as possible. It's hard to punish or remove people from the CU community if reports are not followed up(also acknowledging that CU played a factor in this particular case's delayed response

  36. I dunno

    I am constantly dumbdounded (and I guess that reveals some sort of ridiculous flaw in me) by the lack of seriousness evidenced by the use of cute, ad hominem comments used in these comments to denigrate whole swaths of people.

    Are there some in this community who are so desperate for pats on the back for their "cleverness" or so blind to their own bald-faced prejudices that they feel they have to say something like "Baseball player or troll"?!

    Bigot: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices. It works both ways.

  37. Anonymous

    That comment was responding to a post that was basically patting Tom on the back and call on the victims stupid for not reporting earlier. It has since been removed.

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