Protecting Child Safety at All Levels of Society

Campus sexual assault: brief thoughts before I read “The College Rape Overcorrection”

I am about to read Emily Yoffe’s 11,000 word Slate.com article, “The College Rape Overcorrection.” In the past I have read what she has written about young women’s alcohol use on campus, and heard her speak on The Diane Rehm Show yesterday in the program about the Rolling Stone/UVa article backlash. I am a fan of Yoffe’s Dear Prudence advice column and I agree with her on many issues, but based on what I have heard so far, I am concerned about her stance on the response to campus sexual assault.

The case I heard Yoffe describe on The Diane Rehm Show, student Drew Sterrett being expelled from the University of Michigan, does not sound like it was handled properly or fairly. But that does not mean that we are in an “overcorrection” in the effort to reform how universities handle sexual assault. I believe that every case needs to be treated fairly and professionally, and we need to create systems capable of doing that.

In the process, we must not lose sight of the scope of the sexual assault crisis: that thousands of women and men are being harmed by sexual assault, and colleges have woefully failed to address the harassment and gender-based violence on campus that they are required by law to address. What does it mean that historically, few students are actually given meaningful punishments for sexual assault including expulsion? Research suggests that the majority of assaults are being committed by serial perpetrators, approximately 4% of the male student community. Where are the arrests or expulsions of that core group of perpetrators, who commit sexual assault and many other acts of interpersonal violence? At a large public university, that population could number 500 undergraduates or more.

I recommend the research of of David Lisak on undetected rapists on campus. While his work (like all scientific research) is a topic of active discussion, Lisak and Paul Miller made the striking finding that “representing only 4% of the sample, the repeat rapists accounted for 28% of the violence. Their level of violence was nearly ten times that of non-rapists, and nearly three and a half times that of single-act rapists.”

Identifying and removing these offenders from our campuses, though criminal prosecution whenever possible, as well as campus disciplinary procedures, needs to be a top priority for campus health and public safety.

For years we have accepted the routine, practically normalized assault of women on campus in our social spaces. We have barely recognized or understood the sexual assault that is also experienced by men, and people who are members of historically marginalized communities including the LGBT community. The backlash against reform is one of my biggest fears about this process. I feel that as a society we are willing to let 100,000 women get raped, with little concern, and are actually much more disproportionately concerned about one man being falsely convicted.

As we feel genuine, understandable concern for any accused students and how they are treated by the campus disciplinary processes, we cannot let that stand in opposition to our concern for and responsibility to thousands and thousands of victims of sexual assault on campuses. We have to get it right on both sides.

DoingRightByOurKids.com co-creator Amy Tiemann, Ph.D. was a member of the University of North Carolina’s 22-person “Title IX Task Force” that spent more than a year working on suggested changes to the way that UNC handles complaints of sexual assault complaints among students. Tiemann was appointed to this Task Force by then-Chancellor Holden Thorp, as a representative of the larger Chapel Hill community, where she has lived for 14 years. This is one in a series of posts about what she learned by being part of this process. #UNCIX

Schedule an interview: Dr. Amy Tiemann is a frequent guest expert discussing parenting, child safety, and abuse prevention. Dr. Tiemann’s combination of perspectives and roles as a scientist, educator, author and parent gives her a unique ability to make an impact on individuals, families, and cultural standards and to create positive social change. To schedule an interview, please contact her publicist Jill Dykes, jill@jilldykespr.com or 919-749-8488

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