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A growing number of female students are filing complaints against their colleges and universities, seeking to reform how their institutions deal with sexual violence by fellow students.
Women at Occidental College and the University of Southern California claim that their universities fail to meet federal Title IX standards for preventing and responding to sexual assault on campus.
At Occidental, one victim was shocked to learn that after she graduated, her attacker, who’d admitted to assaulting another student, was allowed back to school after writing a book report about sexual assault.
“I felt appalled, first of all by what happened to her, and appalled that the college hadn’t handled it better.”
Students at Swarthmore, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dartmouth, Yale and UC Berkeley have filed similar complaints.
Their inspiration? The Amherst College student who came forward in the pages of Amherst’s student newspaper last year with her story of how a fellow dorm mate raped her.
The student also recounted how Amherst dissuaded her from getting help, denied her a room change, involuntarily committed her to a psych ward and wouldn’t let her study abroad.
Her attacker graduated with honors.
Biddy Martin has been the president of Amherst College for two years. She learned about the student’s rape and the subsequent handling of her case in the Amherst student newspaper.
“I felt appalled, first of all by what happened to her, and appalled that the college hadn’t handled it better,” Martin told Here & Now. “In my first year, I had learned from students that they felt policies, procedures and the level of focus on sexual misconduct, assault and rape were inadequate, and so we had begin to initiate changes even before last fall when Angie’s account appeared. When I learned of what had occurred, I was determined that we should be open about where we had responsibility for having failed to respond appropriately.”
Studies show that one in four college women will be the victim of a sexual assault or an attempted sexual assault. Research also suggests that over 90 percent of college sexual assaults are committed by serial rapists.
However, for a variety of complicated reasons, many women do not come forward.
Part of this has to do with a lack of understanding of what constitutes rape or sexual assault, says John Lauerman, a reporter for Bloomberg News who has reported on the group of students at Occidental College.
“I’ve talked with at least a dozen women who have been sexually assaulted,” Lauerman said. “There’s a great deal of shame that’s involved, and they frequently aren’t believed.”
Often women don’t want to pursue criminal charges against their rapist, and will go through the college’s procedures for handling sexual assault.
“What women are looking for from colleges is the preservation of the non-hostile environment,” Lauerman said. “They just want to be able to go to school and not see their attacker over and over again. They don’t necessarily want anyone to go to jail.”