A Broken System: The Politics of Adjudicating Sexual Violence on College Campuses

By Johanna DeBari

1 in 4 women will experience sexual violence during their time at college. While that number is troubling alone, what is worse is how collegiate and national court systems are failing to provide justice for women. Not only that, but some people are claiming the systems to be flawed in ways which seek to discredit and invalidate survivors of sexual violence.

An article recently published in the Washington Examiner, discusses the “elitist” nature of the campus sexual assault movement, claiming a “grievance culture” is plaguing the public discourse. Describing the campus courts as “kangaroo courts” structured for victims who are “not really victims,” the author continues, saying women now have to publicly air their grievances about regrettable sexual experiences using rape as their means of vindication. While the failings of collegiate justice systems in adjudicating sexual assault are clear, I find it difficult to see how invalidating survivors’ experiences solves the problems of a broken judicial system.

Not only is this offensive, it seems to point towards an important crux of the problem: we are still reluctant to believe sexual violence against women, particularly rape, can be committed by the “good boys” of university, supposedly angelic in nature, just by the fact that they are enrolled in  a university.

Jon Krakauer’s recent book “Missoula: Rape and Justice in a College Town” points towards the many obstacles survivors seeking justice face through not only the campus courts, but also through the state/national criminal justice systems.

Emphasizing the culture of athletics as an entitled community, Krakauer discusses how male college athletes are seen to “exist in their own world and in their world there is often a tremendous sense of entitlement” (Krakauer 119:2015). Krakauer goes on to say that this entitlement through local prowess spurned by the god-like reputation of being “the football player”, combines to blind the public towards the realities of violence committed in vein of such entitlements: perpetrators get away with it because we are in denial of their culpability.

Krakauer further elucidates the insecurities women face when they choose to come forward and claim they have been raped. Women experience insurmountable hardship when choosing to come forward and charge men with rape or sexual violence because cops, prosecutors, and judges have been socialized to consistently doubt women. Credibility of victim’s testimony is crucial to even begin to see their experience of violence as valid, and unless victims tell their story in the perfect way (consistently, with the same timeline, without getting angry, and just keeping the emotions at bay generally), victims are discredited. Furthermore, without DNA evidence of a crime, cases are more or less guaranteed to be ignored.

We somehow need to take off society’s rose colored glasses when it comes to sexual violence against women on college campuses, and stop seeing male college students accused of sexual violence as intrinsically innocent. To fix a broken system, we cannot assume one’s innocence based on their gender identity and by ignoring valid evidence of their guilt.

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To further complicate the matter, NPR just published an article highlighting where judicial systems have failed those accused of rape in terms of their right to due process. While this is certainly worthy of analysis, I am concerned about a claim made here equalizing the experience of perpetrators and survivors. The article claimed both individuals to be existing along a similar continuum: originally suffering in silence thinking they were alone, then slowly connecting with others, finally becoming a force to be reckoned with. They further claim there may be evidence that those individuals accused of sexual assault, may experience the same instances of traumatization as victims.

That is outrageous. As a survivor of rape myself, the fact that this equation is even possible makes my skin crawl. Are we really putting the “struggle” of perpetrators of violence on the same level of injustice and violation as that of the survivors of such horrific violence? I agree that there should be due process for all individuals involved, but is demeaning survivors’ experiences truly the best means of challenging a broken judicial system?

This makes me think about the nature of patriarchy in our society: When women voice experiences of suffering and violence, they are silenced, revised, and or wholly ignored; but when men come forward and claim their victimization, they are given a spotlight, their voices amplified, and the broader community is moved to act in the face of this injustice. It just goes to show, we really haven’t come that far in the advancement of women’s rights and gender equality, and we should stop pretending the myth of gender equality exists. There is still much work to do.

Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov.

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