Sexual assault is an epidemic. Sexual assault on college campuses is an epidemic. It always has been, and it will continue to be unless there is a cultural shift so profound it affects all levels of the institution in which such behaviors are perpetuated. The UCSB administration’s nonchalant attitude toward the survivors of sexual assault should no longer be tolerated. The university needs to start assuming a more proactive role in the safeguarding of students who choose this campus to call home. UCSB must be unhypocritical in standing by its motto, “Let there be light.”
In the era of the #MeToo movement, the discourse has shifted somewhat positively to supporting and believing more survivors. The number of reported sexual assaults, however, remains consistent. There are still many people who don’t believe survivors. There are many people who don’t want to listen. Consequently, there are still a number of survivors who choose not to report.
So despite the positive shift that has occurred over the past few years and the great work being done at UCSB by the Campus Advocacy, Resources & Education (C.A.R.E.) office, it isn’t enough. For truly profound change to occur, the institution itself, beyond the C.A.R.E. office, must take a stronger stance against sexual violence on its campus.
Denouncing it is not enough anymore. Quite frankly, it never was. Tangible change must occur.
Sexual assault and sexual misconduct run rampant across institutions of higher education in America. According to a massive survey conducted by the Association of American Universities and Westat in 2015, sexual misconduct was shown not only to be a huge issue but also to be widely underreported. The research included responses from 150,000 students at 27 campuses.
One in 10 female students reported that they had experienced sexual assault involving penetration, by force or incapacitation, while in college. 11.7 percent of students reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force or incapacitation since being enrolled at their university. However, the rates of reporting to campus officials ranged from only five to 28 percent.
The most common reasons for not reporting were that the victims felt what happened to them was not serious enough, that they were “embarrassed” and that victims “did not think anything would be done about it.”
At UCSB, there were 32 reported rapes in 2017. In accordance with the aforementioned survey, these 32 reported incidences could represent only a fraction of the total sexual assaults that occured in 2017.
Though there are numerous reasons for an individual to not report, it would be inappropriate for the school to not take more responsibility in how their role factors into this reasoning. What could be done at UCSB to make reporting more legitimate? How can the institution work with law enforcement to make the reporting process less painful for the survivor? How can UCSB extend meaningful education on interpersonal violence beyond just mandatory checkmarks on the resume of a well-rounded new student? How can the university reassure its students that it will actually do something about a sexual assault allegation, instead of brushing it under the rug?
The more active a role the institution, beyond the offices of C.A.R.E., takes in standing against sexual assault and sexual misconduct, the more tangible an impact will be made in the lives of students. This is no longer a problem that we can ignore, and it’s a problem that never should have been ignored to start with. We need to start a conversation about what the university can do better to combat sexual assault. And it is crucial that the university puts measures in place to ensure that students feel safer.
UCSB must be unhypocritical in standing by its motto, “Let there be light.”
So why do universities only seem to do the bare minimum? By law, only the bare minimum is required. In 1986, 19-year-old Jeanne Clery was raped and murdered in her dorm room by a fellow student whom she had previously made complaints about. In 1986, standards for campus crime reporting did not exist, so her parents had no way of knowing the danger she was in.
To ensure that this would happen to fewer students, her parents put what is now known as the Clery Act into motion: a consumer protection law that aims to provide transparency on campus crime policy and statistics.
The Clery Act is the reason you receive all the timely warnings about crime in and around campus in your student email. Though these emails come equipped with some common sense safety tips, they provide little information and actual protection for students, especially when it comes to sexual assault.
So why is an occasional email the biggest effort we see the institution take to protect students from such crimes? It seems to me that these emails and efforts serve more so to protect the institution and its interests rather than proactively protecting individuals within the student community. How could a timely warning email possibly solve the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses? While it is nice to know when and where a crime occurred, that does absolutely nothing to prevent that same crime from happening again, especially in a place like Isla Vista.
In 2011, the Obama administration made historic strides toward diminishing the effects of sexual assault on college campuses with the “Dear Colleague” letter. In this, the U.S. Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights announced that the sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination.
The administration declared that sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. Title IX is a part of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities by recipients of federal financial assistance. While this didn’t fix anything overnight, it was a step in the right direction of holding universities more accountable for the roles they play in the safety of students.
Unfortunately, reigning Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded the Obama era policies in favor of new policies that bolster the rights of students accused of assault, harassment or rape, reduce liability for universities and establish a higher legal standard to determine whether schools improperly addressed complaints.
This was met with much backlash from survivors and campus advocacy groups, but the UC system announced they would remain committed to maintaining the university’s system-wide policies and procedures on sexual violence and sexual harassment. So in the era of minimal accountability and maximum exposure, the UCSB administration has remained committed to doing the bare minimum.
It’s obvious why universities aren’t more forward about the crimes that happen on and around their campuses. Who wants to be the first to admit how bad the issue really is? In the name of consumer protection, universities work to protect themselves first and foremost. Beyond the fear of bad PR and public backlash, universities have the responsibility to advocate for truth and uphold justice to the best of their ability.
In his letter, Obama noted, “Education has long been recognized as the great equalizer in America.” It does a disservice to all students — past, present and future — to not treat the privilege of being at this institution exactly as such. Moving forward, the institution needs to be much more transparent about its reporting and judicial processes regarding such situations; it needs to be more firm in its stance against sexual assault and misconduct; and it must take greater action in preventing and reprimanding such crimes.
In the era of minimal accountability and maximum exposure, the UCSB administration has remained committed to doing the bare minimum.
What upsets me most is that people fear false reporting. People accuse victims of being attention-seeking. People don’t believe victims, seemingly for no reason other than fear of potential false reporting or the consequences for perpetrators.
Statistics show false reporting is almost non-existent, with only between two and ten percent of all reports estimated to be false. Furthermore, less than one-third of reported campus sexual assault cases end in expulsion.
False reporting is incredibly minimal, let alone the fact that sexual assault on campuses is widely underreported. It’s obvious through recent events that those who come forward face severe consequences themselves, eliminating the possibility of any good that can come from the suggested “fame” of reporting a high-profile perpetrator.
Just this summer, Christine Blasey Ford received numerous death threats for speaking out against her assailant, Brett Kavanaugh, who suffered relatively no consequences from the situation and now sits on the highest court of the land.
If you haven’t murdered anyone, you aren’t going to fear going to jail over murder. If you haven’t raped or sexually assaulted someone, you shouldn’t fear going to jail over that, either. If you’re still a little skeptical or maybe even a little nervous, I’ll make this very clear.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations since 1989, only 52 men convicted of sexual assault were exonerated due to being falsely accused. Only 52 men in 29 years. I pose the question: Why fear the consequences of sexual misconduct if you are innocent?
It’s very clear from the recent overturning of several Title IX cases at UCSB that investigators do not follow proper protocol regarding due process. This does a disservice to both the accused and the victim.
UCSB administration must work with both the Title IX office and law enforcement to develop and implement a less traumatic reporting process for victims, they must fight for a faster and more rigorous investigation process and, upon finding individuals guilty of sexual misconduct, the university must expel such individuals. The institution must make it very clear that sexual assault and sexual misconduct do not belong in our community, and they must prove this to us through these actions. Sexual misconduct is not a crime that can be fixed with a slap on the wrist. As students, we must demand more accountability from the institution that is here to serve us. There is no reason such reasonable demands cannot be met.
UC Santa Barbara is considered the fifth best public university in the country — shouldn’t we be doing more than the bare minimum?
“The best education in the world is useless if a student doesn’t survive with a healthy mind and body.”
— Connie and Howard Clery, parents of Jeanne Clery