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By Madison Ferril
A former administrator and three students from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill recently filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the university has been mishandling sexual assault cases. This lawsuit represents a common problem on college campuses: administrators failing to punish those who commit sexual assault.
All you have to do is look at the stories of women who tried to go through the proper procedures, only to have administrators ignore their cases or even outright blame them for their attacks.
Here are a couple of examples: one from the National Catholic Reporter and one from the UNC Daily Tarheel.
In the case of Lizzy Seeberg, a St. Mary’s College freshman in 2010, administrators did not investigate her claim that a Notre Dame football player assaulted her until five days after she committed suicide. When UNC student Andrea Pino asked for a medical withdrawal due to post-traumatic stress disorder after her assault, the administration told her that she was just “being lazy.”
Colleges fail to realize sexual assault changes a woman’s life. A variety of psychological, physical and emotional problems can arise and cause the victim to withdraw from her former life. Her relationships with friends and family suffer. Some women change their schedules, drop out of college, or transfer to another school.
A woman shouldn’t have to rearrange her life to avoid her attacker. She shouldn’t have to face insults. Instead, the justice system should make the process of reporting and investigating a rape more tolerable. It takes courage for a woman to report her rape, and she deserves to be treated with sympathy and respect.
When someone is raped, it is because someone else chose to commit rape, not because the victim wore the wrong clothes or failed to act a certain way. It’s sad that most women won’t talk to anyone else about what happened to them because of the stigma attached to rape victims.
When acts of sexual assault are coupled with apathy toward victims or even outright condemnation, it is always to the benefit of the perpetrator. Rape is the only crime where the victim is held responsible for being a victim, and it needs to stop. Women have a right to exist on college campuses without fear of harassment or violation, and colleges should do all they can to make sure this happens.
Women have a right to see their claims investigated, and sexual assault should be punishable by permanent expulsion and criminal charges.
People often make the mistake of thinking sexual assault is about sex, but really it’s not. It’s about power, and people who commit sexual assault are able to hold onto that power through intimidation of their victims and the complacency of those who could stop them.
We can pay lip service to the severity and seriousness of sexual assault all we want, but until we actively begin to help victims and stop attackers from believing their acts are acceptable, stories like Seeberg and Pino’s will continue to be commonplace. Women will continue to suffer in silence, and rapists will continue to walk free, confident in the belief that many people, for their own reasons, fail to see their actions for what they are.
Madison Ferril is a junior professional writing major from Canyon. She is a reporter for the Lariat.