The Shocking Lack of Consequences for College Campus Sexual Assault Perpetrators in the US
On one seemingly normal January night in 2015, a woman on the Stanford campus went to a party. The next thing she would be aware of was waking up on hospital covered in bandages and bruises. This woman was sexually assaulted that night behind a dumpster during the party she was attending. She was unconscious when it happened. What this woman did not know that when she innocently went out that night, was that she was about to become the center of one of the most publicized college sexual assault cases in US history (BuzzFeed News).
This woman, known today only as Emily Doe, was assaulted by the now infamous former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner. Brock Turner, a privileged and popular student athlete robbed Emily that night of her body, her dignity, and her future. So, what was he robbed of in return; a minuscule 3 months of freedom? He was eligible for up to 14 years in jail but was sentenced to only six months in what has become one of the most controversial decisions in judicial history. Of that six months, he was only forced to serve three. News broke recently, that he is now even taking the bold step to appeal this conviction. He does not want to have to register as a sex offender. He is effectively trying to erase all consequences of his unthinkable crime. The scary thing is, he might be able to (BuzzFeed News).
Now, you may be asking, why is it so important to hear this story? Well, it’s important because Brock Turner and Emily Doe are far from alone. Their story may have been well publicized in the news cycle, but it is by no means an unusual story. In fact, the only thing unusual about it was that Turner went to jail at all. There is a shockingly large number of sexual assaults on college campuses around the US every day. It is reported that 60% of women are sexually assaulted in college (LIVEYOURDREAM.org). So why are we not hearing more about this epidemic? Most college victims never report the crime. Their silence is ensured by a culture of shaming and punishing the victim on most campuses. Emily Doe stands out not because she was a victim, but for her courage to even report that she was assaulted. Her dogged pursuit of consequences for Turner sets her apart from 88% of other victims (LIVEYOURDREAM.org). On college campuses these days it is as if sexual assault is expected, and therefore ignored.
Now let’s just pretend for a moment that the crime is reported, such as with Emily Doe. There are little, to no, consequences for the offenders. Just look at Stanford as an example. From 1993-2013 there were 259 reported sexual assaults. During this same period, there was 1 expulsion for the crime. From 1998-2013 there were 205 reported sexual assaults at the University of Virginia. They expelled no students for their offense (LIVEYOURDREAM.org). Clearly, administrations cannot be counted on to hold perpetrators responsible for their crimes. So, what about the criminal justice system? Surely, they must step in to help victims. Wrong again. Criminal ramifications for perpetrators of assault are few and far between as well. Only “26% of reported sexual assaults lead to an arrest of the perpetrator, and even less, 20% are prosecuted for their crime” (LIVEYOURDREAM.org).
In fact, most of the consequences of college sexual assault fall on the victim or their supporters. Victims are ostracized if not outrightly threatened if they report the crime. A report shows that a woman who was assaulted by a member of a college football team received a warning text from one of his teammates urging her not to “do anything [she] would regret” (LIVEYOURDREAM.org). Women are forced to put their education and safety on campus in jeopardy if they want justice. In fact, the culture of denial and victim blaming goes so far as to impact faculty and administrators who speak out on behalf of victims. A professor at Harvard was appointed a Loeb Fellow (an honor for distinguished faculty) in 2010, only to be denied tenure in 2014 after speaking out on behalf of a sexual assault victim on campus. A professor at the University of Connecticut was terminated for speaking out against campus sexual assault (LIVEYOURDREAM.org).
Society can no longer let this pervasive campus culture of acceptance of sexual assault stand. It is time to support the victims rather than blame and shame them. When will being assaulted be punishment enough? It is time that the punishment went to those who are committing these atrocities. Maybe then those in Emily Doe’s position can at least try to reclaim some of the dignity that they had so terrifyingly ripped away from them.