Jackie was 18-years-old and had been at UVA for just a few weeks when she was raped by seven men at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house over the course of three hours. What happened after she came to and ran to find her friends is devastating. Here is what Rolling Stone’s Sabrina Rubin Erdely says happened when one of her friends suggested taking Jackie to the hospital:
“Is that such a good idea?” she recalls Cindy asking. “Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.” Andy seconded the opinion, adding that since he and Randall both planned to rush fraternities, they ought to think this through. The three friends launched into a heated discussion about the social price of reporting Jackie’s rape, while Jackie stood beside them, mute in her bloody dress, wishing only to go back to her dorm room and fall into a deep, forgetful sleep. Detached, Jackie listened as Cindy prevailed over the group: “She’s gonna be the girl who cried ‘rape,’ and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.”
Jackie bravely went to the school’s Sexual Misconduct Board anyway, where, according to an article about the story in Jezebel:
…she was offered a range of “formal” and “informal” resolutions to the matter. Without guidance, she did nothing, and has spent her time at UVA traumatized, while the men who allegedly raped her got off scot-free.
There are currently a dozen schools being investigated by the Department of Education for possible violations of federal law in the way they handle allegations of sexual misconduct. Included on the list, in addition to UVA, are schools like UC-Berkeley, Carnegie-Mellon, Dartmouth, Princeton, and Harvard. By now, most of us are aware that sexual assaults are not handled well at a lot of schools. But reading about Jackie’s experience and getting an extremely personal view of one of these incidents makes me furious that any of these assaults are ever handled and dismissed by the universities themselves instead of the local police departments. How can you handle a rape the same way you would handle a dispute with a roommate? This doesn’t warrant “informal” resolutions. This warrants expulsion at a minimum and hopefully (though sadly, not often) jail time. Part of the problem with how sexual misconduct is handled at some schools, according to Erdely, is the culture surrounding sexual assault at those schools.
Unlike many other colleges and universities, UVA doesn’t have a strong anti-sexual assault activist presence at their school. According to Rolling Stone, less than 500 people attending the school’s latest Take Back The Night march at a campus of 21,000 students. For comparison, I went to a school with about 1,500 students and I am pretty sure there were about 500,000 people at our TBTN event. And while the students at these schools have a lot of power to change the culture, they are also only there for a few years. And they are teenagers. I would argue that the administration drives the culture of a school, and if they won’t step up and say, “This is wrong and we’re not going to tolerate it,” then it’s going to take a lot more work to get the student body to mobilize and have the kind of revolution they clearly need at UVA.