The inability to prosecute rape at colleges across the United States has become a recurring headline in the national media.
Recently, the University of Southern California (USC) has come under federal investigation regarding a Title IX complaint; a group of more than 13 students alleged that administrators and Department of Public Safety failed to respond to their reports of sexual violence on campus. One of the complainants is a girl who, as cited by the Huffington Post, says a “detective told her the campus police determined that no rape occurred in her case because her alleged assailant did not orgasm.” Other complainants were treated with what appears to be a complete lack of empathy: a USC official reportedly told an alleged rape victim the goal is to provide an “educative” rather than punitive process to her assailant, and another student was told by an officer that girls should not “go out, get drunk and expect not to get raped.”
In response to the Huffington Post’s article and several of the claims within it, associate vice president for student affairs Tony Hawkins, who is also one of Purdue’s Deputy Title IX coordinators and, therefore, within the group of people who make decisions about sexual assault cases, said:
“I would hope we’d never say that. If someone alleged that there was a sexual assault, we have to treat it as a sexual assault and do the investigation. We would never say, just out of the blue, that instead of pursuing it that we would just educate the other party.”
Hawkins continued to say that he and Purdue’s other Title IX coordinators “take every case very seriously” and “can’t not take action or take it seriously.”
When asked whether Purdue has had any recent complaints regarding violations of Title IX in regards to sexual assault, Hawkins said:
“I don’t know about Purdue violating (Title IX), but certainly some people have come forward and inquired about sexual assault policies and procedures and some have decided to go ahead and pursue a process, whether it’s an informal process or a formal process.”
He then said there have been instances in which students did not wish to go through with formal sexual assault charges, but chose to leave the University due to the psychological impact of the assault.
Hawkins explained that the involvement of alcohol makes decisions in sexual assault cases particularly difficult.
“The biggest problem is alcohol and some people not being conscious enough to explain whether or not they want to be a participant and then afterwards questioning themselves and blaming themselves. I think it becomes problematical if someone had so much alcohol they can’t remember all the details and then from that perspective it becomes a little more difficult. But just because someone has consumed alcohol, does not give someone else permission to take advantage of a person. Just because they didn’t verbalize ‘no’ doesn’t mean it’s okay to proceed.”
A small survey of female students on campus seemed to show that a majority of girls believe going to a party or bar alone, or leaving alone, is the worst decision a female can make in regards to her safety. Only one girl, a student in the College of Health and Human Sciences, Sara Fam, mentioned the danger of drinking too much to remember the night.
Fam was asked, “What do you think is the worst thing a girl can do in regards to safety when she goes out drinking?”
She replied, “Blacking out and not being able to remember the next day what happened, because people, I think, can take advantage of you.”
Common responses to this question included walking home alone, going home with strangers and leaving a drink unattended.
Hawkins is aware that sexual assault is largely under-reported and said the University will be implementing educational programming to better inform students on how to report sexual assault and the process of doing so.
“Those are some of the things that we’re struggling with, but we’re not the only campus struggling with it,” Hawkins said. “That would be the largest complaint; that we need to be doing more and I think everyone agrees with it.”