Why Some Schools Should Celebrate Being at the Top of Reported Campus Rape Lists

It means the violence is actually being talked about.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
Aug. 1, 2014, 1 a.m.

In a re­cent Wash­ing­ton Post story, Grin­nell Col­lege Pres­id­ent Raynard S. King­ton was quoted mak­ing a rather un­com­fort­able ad­mis­sion: Re­ports of cam­pus rape re­cently shot up in his small Iowa col­lege — and he was happy about it.

“If any­thing, this is evid­ence we are do­ing a bet­ter job, cre­at­ing a sup­port­ive en­vir­on­ment, where more people feel more com­fort­able re­port­ing,” King­ton said of his school’s high num­ber of re­por­ted sexu­al as­saults. Grin­nell had re­cently launched a cam­paign edu­cat­ing its stu­dent body on the im­port­ance of re­port­ing rape, he ex­plained, and any chance the high­er num­bers would make the school look bad was eas­ily out­weighed by the be­ne­fits of a pro-re­port­ing cam­pus cul­ture.

Sen. Claire Mc­Caskill is hop­ing to al­le­vi­ate mis­per­cep­tions stem­ming from these stat­ist­ics in her new le­gis­la­tion to battle sexu­al as­sault on cam­pus. The bill, an­nounced Wed­nes­day by a bi­par­tis­an group of law­makers, would re­quire every U.S. col­lege to be sur­veyed about its sexu­al vi­ol­ence, cre­at­ing what Mc­Caskill has dubbed an “apples-to-apples ap­proach.” It would also re­quire cam­puses to have a uni­form pro­cess for dis­cip­lin­ary pro­ceed­ings and co­ordin­ate with loc­al law en­force­ment agen­cies to dis­cuss re­spons­ib­il­it­ies and share in­form­a­tion.

“To curb these crimes, stu­dents need to be pro­tec­ted and em­powered, and in­sti­tu­tions must provide the highest level of re­spons­ive­ness in help­ing hold per­pet­rat­ors fully ac­count­able,” Mc­Caskill said in a state­ment on Wed­nes­day. “That’s what our le­gis­la­tion aims to ac­com­plish.”

Grin­nell was just one of a hand­ful of pres­ti­gi­ous lib­er­al arts schools to re­port high num­bers of of­fenses in rank­ings re­cently com­piled by The Post. After the rank­ings ran, some of the schools lis­ted re­ceived a spate of un­flat­ter­ing cov­er­age. An art­icle in Ore­gon’s The Re­gister-Guard, for in­stance, came out at­tack­ing Reed Col­lege, long known as a bas­tion for peace­ful hip­pies, for its high num­ber of re­por­ted in­cid­ents, which topped re­por­ted of­fenses at every oth­er high­er edu­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tion in the state.

“No one is happy with the num­bers,” Reed spokes­man Kev­in My­ers told the pa­per at the time, “but people are happy that vic­tims are com­ing for­ward. The goal is to re­duce and pre­vent sexu­al as­sault from hap­pen­ing on the cam­pus, but an­oth­er goal is to re­spond in the most ef­fect­ive way.”

In­deed, Mc­Caskill has sug­ges­ted that high rates of re­por­ted as­saults do not ne­ces­sar­ily re­flect badly on schools. What should be much more wor­ri­some, she pos­its, are schools with no re­por­ted of­fenses at all.

“We’ve got to ex­plain to the pub­lic that they should not hold a uni­versity re­spons­ible for some fail­ure if the num­ber of sexu­al as­sault re­ports go up,” she told the Post fol­low­ing the pub­lic­a­tion of their rank­ings. In short: If a school has zero of­fenses, it could well mean the in­sti­tu­tion isn’t do­ing enough to en­cour­age stu­dents to speak out.

The con­cerns echoed those of Jen­nifer Freyd, a psy­cho­logy pro­fess­or at the Uni­versity of Ore­gon, who re­cently wrote a column con­demning the way the rank­ings have been used. “Each col­lege and uni­versity now has a choice: Nervously guard its repu­ta­tion at the pro­found ex­pense of stu­dent well-be­ing,” she wrote, “or cour­ageously in­vest in stu­dent safety, health and edu­ca­tion.”

Mc­Caskill’s le­gis­la­tion, which could be heard on the Sen­ate floor as early as Septem­ber, would make it so schools don’t have to choose.

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