There have been some really important happenings in the world of campus sexual assault policy reform recently, and, since I’m currently studying Spanish in Panama, I’ve completely neglected keep you updated. Commence link overload…
If you’re a regular reader, you probably recall a post that I published a couple of weeks back that referenced a major story in the Chicago Tribune. Basically, the Tribune’s investigation revealed that “the rate of arrests and convictions” in cases of campus sexual assault “is far below the average for rapes reported nationally.” A few days later, the Tribune ran another muckraking story—one which called Marquette University out for violating state law by failing to report incidents of campus sexual assault to local law enforcement. The Tribune spoke to Roger Canaff, a former prosecuter, who speculates that Marquette officials refrained from reporting campus sexual assaults to the police in order to protect the university’s image:
“If you’re not following that law, if you’re attempting to handle sexual assault complaints internally within the university, I think the fair assumption is you’re doing that because you don’t want to bring outside attention onto this problem on your campus, so I can understand why people are angry about it,” Canaff said. “Obviously, I can’t get into what the motives of the university (administrators) are — I have no idea — but I think that would be a fair inference that people would draw.”
It’s entirely possible that Canaff is right, and one quote from a student survivor who spoke to the Tribune is particularly troubling:
“It has pretty much become my life. I’ll never just be able to forget that it happened, because it changed everything,” she told the newspaper this week. “I don’t trust anyone. I will never again trust the university. I will never again trust anyone in any position of authority because they worked their absolute hardest against me and lied to me.”
It goes without question that Marquette’s sexual misconduct policy needs improvement, particularly when it comes to the school’s treatment of survivors (as evidenced by the above quote). Unsurprisingly, Marquette has revised its policy in response to criticism garnered by the article in the Tribune:
After an article in the Chicago Tribune this past week revealed that Marquette University had failed to report several sexual assaults that had occurred on campus to the Milwaukee police, the university has changed its policy. The university admitted that it had neglected to report several cases of sexual assault to local law enforcement authorities over the past decade, which is an apparent violation of state law. One woman claimed that she had been raped by a student athlete in February but when she went to the campus police, no report was taken and the police were not notified.
In a statement, Father Robert A. Wild, president of Marquette University, said, “We now refer any reported incident of sexual assault to the Sensitive Crimes Unit of the Milwaukee Police Department. We have also added a victim advocate to the staff of our Student Health Service and have more tightly restricted who on campus has access to reports from the Department of Public Safety.”
Did you catch that? Under Marquette’s revised policy, the university will report sexual assault incidents to law enforcement without the survivor’s consent. (Granted, this policy abides by state law.) But the logic of this newly enforced law is particularly troubling. This Journal Sentinel editorial speaks to everything that is wrong with a sexual misconduct policy that robs survivors of their agency:
Studies show that 73% of women who are victims of sexual assault are assaulted by someone they know, which makes it harder for them to come forward in the first place. If it’s left up to the victim, some may decide not to pursue the matter out of fear of being victimized again. Justice—and victims—are not served well by such a policy.
I could go on and on about the ways in which this policy hurts survivors, but Melinda Hughes of the Milwaukee Sexual Assault Response Team has already done it for me.
It needs to be noted that adult sexual assault victims everywhere else are given the right to decide whether their assaults are reported to police – there is no mandated reporting for adults, only for children. Sexual assault temporarily robs one of a sense of power and control over one’s life. Being able to make decisions about what course of action to pursue after the assault is crucial for victims to begin to regain a sense of power, control and personal autonomy. This policy change, directed by the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office, strips victims on one campus of this autonomy and may have the unintended consequence of silencing rape victims.
I truly hope that Marquette officials heed Melinda’s advice, because “justice” that harms survivors is no justice at all.