Covering Up Campus Rape — Women Confront College Administrations’ Silence


Rape is an epidemic in the U.S. and around the world. One out of every four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

Rape victims are four times more likely than non-crime victims to have contemplated suicide after the rape, and 13 times more likely than non-crime victims to have attempted suicide (National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center). On college campuses, 25% of female students will suffer rape or attempted rape.

Campus fraternities in particular are breeding grounds for sexual harassment and violence, from verbal abuse to gang rape. A 1990 national survey of more than 12,000 students by the Campus Violence Prevention Center at Maryland’s Towson State University found that about half of all reported acquaintance rapes were committed by frat members and athletes.

In Gender and Society, sociologists Patricia Martin and Robert Hummer describe the world of fraternities as characterized by a “concern with a narrow, stereotypical conception of masculinity and heterosexuality, a preoccupation with loyalty,… and an obsession with competition, superiority, and dominance.”

A major reason why campuses are unsafe for women is because college administrators do almost nothing about rape to avoid bad publicity and embarrassing their consumers (students and parents) and wealthy donors (alumni and corporations).

Campus authorities often pressure sexual assault victims to keep the case within the jurisdiction of the school and to accept plea bargains that let the perpetrators off the hook. University administrators typically use campus judicial boards to rule on cases of sexual assault, which were originally set up to judge cases of plagiarism and honor code violations.

Most of their “judges” have no legal training regarding sexual assault, and their punishments for rape are the same as, or even less than, the punishment for plagiarism – typically one year suspensions. Universities rarely file criminal complaints, and only 1% of male student rapists are actually prosecuted. Even fewer are convicted.

Sexism – Alive and Well
The legal justice system also fails to seriously prosecute rape claims because juries and judges often buy into prejudices and myths about women, which are reinforced by the media.

Incredibly, a common excuse for dismissing instances of rape is that large numbers of women are falsely crying rape. However, a study by a New York sex crimes analysis unit found that only 2% of reported rapes are false allegations, the same percentage as for any other crime. Many people still consider a woman to be at fault if she dresses in revealing clothing or flirts, as if women don’t have the right to flirt or wear what they want!

Another misconception is that rape is the result of irresistible male urges, rather than an expression of power and control. As a result, young rapists are often considered to be merely immature boys who haven’t yet learned to “control themselves,” or who “don’t know what they’re doing.”

Even many rape victims have internalized these backward ideas, blaming themselves for “being stupid” or being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Many women also believe that because the man was a friend it couldn’t have been rape, even though 75% of all rapes are committed by acquaintances of the survivor (US Bureau of Justice Statistics) and 57% of college rape victims are attacked by dates.

The result is that the vast majority of sexual assault survivors keep it to themselves. On campuses, rape is the most underreported crime (only 5% of victims report it), and 50% of these women will tell no one about the crime (US Student Association). A Senate Judiciary Committee report in 1993 estimated that 84% of rapes are never reported, with only 2% of rapes resulting in convictions.

Fighting Back With Both Fists
But many women have chosen to fight back, and they are having a significant impact. Victims are suing universities and prosecuting sex offenders in court. Take-Back-the-Night marches and teach-ins have pushed colleges to implement education and support programs, and secondary schools now provide some self-defense training for girls (although these programs need to be greatly expanded). These actions have had some success in changing social attitudes about rape and gender roles.

Mass demonstrations, though, like those of the 1960’s and ’70s, have been particularly effective because they raise women’s confidence by providing women a chance to feel our collective power in large numbers, and to publicly demand immediate action from authorities.

Some women are going even further, recognizing that women’s oppression must be tackled at its source. Sexual assault is the inevitable by-product of a sexist, capitalist society that is based on inequality, exploitation, and domination – a society where women are reduced to mere sex objects a thousand times a day in the media, and men are taught to compete for wealth, power, and masculinity.

That is why we need to build a powerful women’s movement that aims to overturn the economic and social system that gives rise to women’s oppression – capitalism. In an alternative socialist society based on equality and cooperation, the systemic exploitation, oppression, and domination inherent in capitalism would no longer distort human relationships, and the world would be a much safer place for women.