Contact CU Independent Opinion Editor Kaley LaQuea at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this month, the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance released data from the sexual misconduct survey conducted late last year. The survey found that 28 percent of undergraduate women have experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact during their time at CU. These experiences ranged from unwanted touching to rape, and 15 percent of all respondents reported some form of sexual assault on and off campus during their time at the university.
These numbers shouldn’t surprise anyone. The survey and its results create a dialogue, and CU’s administration has listed completed actions and outlined steps to be taken through fall of this year. The university declined to participate in a nationwide sexual misconduct survey last summer, declining $87,500, so that it could tailor questions to CU’s campus and needs. The administration also provided a $5 campus cash incentive, which totaled $62,000 for all students who took the survey.
Many actions, including new staff hires and comprehensive training, are an integral part of the process. Still, there are crucial concrete steps missing from this list that would aid in the prevention of sexual assault and rape in our community. According to Sarah Gilchriese, the student who filed the most recent federal complaint against CU for Title IX violations, university administration failed to impose an appropriate penalty on her assailant.
“He approached me on campus a couple times, but when I told the university they didn’t care. I wanted a restraining order for personal reasons for the rest of my life. I just didn’t want him around me. At the very minimum they should’ve suspended him until I was off campus,” Gilchriese said.
“They just didn’t seem to care,” Gilchriese said of professors and investigators, who she said failed to handle her case appropriately. Gilchriese’s case, which became public in May of 2013 was the impetus for the creation of Valerie Simons’ position as Title IX coordinator.
A main critique of the handling of sexual assault cases within university communities nationwide is that when punishments are levied, they don’t do enough to deter repeat behavior. When lax punishments are the standard, repeat offenders appear immune to the consequences of their actions. According to survey results, 27 percent of respondents reported two incidents, 12 percent reported three and 10 percent reported four or more.
CU is no stranger to criticism regarding its handling of sexual assault reports. From 1999 to 2004, there were six high-profile reports of sexual assault. In 2007, the university settled for $2.8 million with Lisa Simpson and Anne Gilmore, two women who were raped at a party by football players and high school recruits while they were students in 2001.
“The facts of this particular case were egregious,” Jocelyn Samuels, an attorney with the National Women’s Law Center said in an interview for The Chronicle of Higher Education. “But ultimately what I think is most relevant for other universities is to recognize that the law means what it says. They have a legal obligation to ensure the safety of their students.”
As a Pac-12 school, CU also has a sizable obligation to its athletics, to the tune of the current stadium expansion project, which is $24 million over budget. Since 2006, the department has also paid roughly $9.3 million in severance expenses. With a troubling history and such steep investments, when athletes are accused of sexual misconduct, will the university really do what’s in the best interest of the student body?
Another issue that has failed to be addressed by the university is how the administration intends to work with local police. CU fraternities that are off-campus are an important part of the conversation about sexual assault, yet remain immune to expectations of student conduct. Fraternities are able to obtain and serve alcohol to minors and don’t fall under university jurisdiction. Alcohol and the binge-drinking culture that is pervasive among college students, especially Greek life, is a major factor in sexual assault. As the survey concluded, a portion of sexual assaults and rapes have occurred off campus. How does the administration plan to act and prevent these cases from happening?
Rape culture fosters an environment in which consent is regarded not as a line to be toed, but rather one that is blurry and malleable. It teaches young men that drunken hookups are a space of free reign and anything goes. It implants the false notion that women cry foul at every opportunity, when the disturbing truth is that very few survivors of rape and assault come forward at all. It perpetuates the idea that somehow, in some convoluted way, the blame can always be laid at the victim’s feet. Until candid consent education addresses this damaging culture and the embedded ideology, sexual assault will remain a horrible part of the college experience.
The administration has made it clear that they intend to take deliberate actions to educate and prevent sexual assault and rape within the CU community. Here’s hoping they tackle the real issues to spur some real change.