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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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38 Responses

  1. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable March 8, 2010 at 2:58 pm |

    I’ve had very mixed feelings about the campus reporting system and I’ve decided that I have very little faith in it. At Georgetown, if you fight back against someone who is assaulting you, they recommend to the assaulter to countercharge you with assault – there’s nothing in the code of conduct about self defense in sexual or other physical assault. At Wash U, their sexual assault policy lists your rights and words the police issue as such: “You have the right not to report to the police.” (source:http://www.wustl.edu/policies/assault.html). Orly? Why is it worded that way? It’s actively discouraging people from getting the authorities involved and instead relying on the campus reporting system where they can hand out “just” punishments like “deferred suspension.” But you? As the person assaulted? All you have to deal with is a lifetime of trigger warnings and victim blamings. Totally just.

  2. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin March 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm |

    Absolutely, but it doesn’t just stop at campus rape. No college or university, or even K-12 school district wants to deal with a lawsuit. They will settle out of court or make concessions sooner then they will ever risk the time, bad press, and potential expense. Nevermind that most of these potential cases are completely bogus and would be laughed out of court.

    Sometimes they are legit, like this situation, but what is completely unjust is that institutions are so petrified of losing revenue or having their reputations sullied that they simply will not protect the basic rights of their students. I think it’s completely cowardly.

  3. Julian Morrison
    Julian Morrison March 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm |

    There’s an obvious solution to this. See that they get exactly the PR nightmare they were trying to dodge. They will be 100% on side if it hurts them more to cover up a rapist than to expel them.

  4. anna.licious
    anna.licious March 8, 2010 at 3:09 pm |

    I’m a grad student at UMass Amherst, which paints itself as progressive and pro-women in its policies and advertising.

    This news is horrifying, especially given that it’s only a few months after a rape that occurred in the WEB DuBois library (which still hasn’t been solved). I’m beginning to understand why my boyfriend bought me pepper spray to carry with me when I have to be on campus late at night for graduate seminars…after going to college in Baltimore, I assumed he was paranoid. UMass appeared safe at first. Apparently, though, for women it isn’t.

    It’s rapidly becoming obvious that UMass (along with many other universities) has a serious problem on its hands and needs to address it with the appropriate degree of severity.

  5. benvolio
    benvolio March 8, 2010 at 3:21 pm |

    Is there any reason the victim here cannot also pursue via the criminal justice system and/or a civil suit against UMASS? Or did she forfeit those rights by following the path she did?

    I do find it heartening (in a coal-black-heart way, that is) that the actions that UMASS took to avoid a PR problem is resulting in a nice fat PR problem, though. Assclowns.

  6. D
    D March 8, 2010 at 3:23 pm |

    http://www.umass.edu/chancellor/

    Contact information for the chancellor can be found at the above website. If anyone knows of a better contact person, please share.

  7. Maureen
    Maureen March 8, 2010 at 3:26 pm |

    What Julian Morrison said. Let the university have the proverbial shit-bomb of a PR disaster. Maybe then they’ll reconsider that nasty little “deferred suspension” thing.

  8. SarahfromSAFER
    SarahfromSAFER March 8, 2010 at 3:38 pm |

    Just wanted to point out that students at UMass are all over this and getting involved, which is really exciting. There’s a whole section of the student newspaper dedicated to the issue: http://dailycollegian.com/2010/03/05/breaking-the-silence/

    I also want to encourage college students who want to add their voice to the dialogue on campus sexual assault to check out the SAFER and V-Day Campus Accountability Project and add their school to our policies database: http://safercampus.org/campus-accountability-project

  9. L
    L March 8, 2010 at 3:46 pm |

    I’m an undergrad student at UMass Amherst who lives in the campus apartment right across from the one where the crime occurred and where the rapist lives. There has been quite a backlash after this incident and the chancellor of student affairs and others are being questioned for their actions. I personally still feel safe on campus and I have a job that requires me to walk home alone late at night, but it does seem that when sexual assault occurs here there are rarely punitive actions taken. They also can’t reconsider the deferred suspension because university policy doesn’t allow them to change a ruling unless the person who committed the crime appeals it.

  10. Kimberly Latta
    Kimberly Latta March 8, 2010 at 4:05 pm |

    I was just blogging about rape on campus, and am glad to see this piece here. Thanks for posting.
    Kimberly
    My blog is http://pittsburghfeminists.blogspot.com/

  11. snobographer
    snobographer March 8, 2010 at 5:51 pm |

    You’d think rape would be considered a serious crime, wouldn’t you? People keep telling me it’s right up there with murder. But then you keep seeing puny punishments like this, if you’re lucky enough to see any punishment at all.
    I’m going to start rounding up all these cases where a guy confessed to a rape or was found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and got a slap on the wrist like this. And I’m going to show my collection to everybody who complains that accusing somebody of rape is “very serious” and “could ruin a man’s life.”

  12. Thomas
    Thomas March 8, 2010 at 6:08 pm |

    I’m so sick of this shit. Colleges have a pattern and practice of covering up sexual assaults and pushing reporting into the black holes of conduct councils, where they are covered by confidentiality. They rarely sustain a complaint, and apparently they impose no penalty when they do, but what they really do is keep the allegation under wraps. That’s their goal; to pretend to be a campus without rape. That’s the only thing they accomplish.

    If those administrators all spontaneously combusted, I wouldn’t exactly be sad.

  13. Flowers
    Flowers March 8, 2010 at 6:10 pm |

    Wow. Just wow. I’m so glad UMass students are doing something about this. UMass is public, right? Students should write their representatives as well. And while they’re at it, hit up the alumni. Schools listen the most to the people who give the money (alumni and legislators).

  14. snobographer
    snobographer March 8, 2010 at 6:18 pm |

    Thomas – it’s like Halliburton banning cell phones. It’s crystal clear where their concern truly lies.

  15. Sailorman
    Sailorman March 8, 2010 at 6:23 pm |

    What does the victim want? This doesn’t make much sense.

    That said, there is one important counterargument, which I wrote a paper on:

    It is possible that the benefits of a confession can outweigh the benefits of punishment. My paper actually compared Nuremberg and the South African Truth and Reconciliation committees. In Nuremberg, people were punished, but it was very difficult to get them to really admit the horrific things which were done. in South Africa, people admitted to doing things that were so horrible it opened the world’s eyes and arguably changed the course of the nation. but in exchange for that truly open confession, they were able to escape punishment.

    Lots of writings talk about victims who not only bear the injury of the rape, but the continuing injury of being thought of as liars. The common misperception of our court rulings (not guilty does not mean innocent!) only stokes that fire.

    It’s not my call; it should be the victim’s choice. But it is certainly possible that the long term benefit for a victim would be greater if she were vindicated by a confession, than by a punishment accompanied by denial. Nobody should make that choice for her.

  16. TeriSaw
    TeriSaw March 8, 2010 at 8:33 pm |

    Comrade Kevin, could you expand upon your “Nevermind that most of these potential cases are completely bogus and would be laughed out of court” comment? I’m not sure which cases you are referring to here but it’s reading rather…not good.

  17. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable March 8, 2010 at 9:38 pm |

    And “Sometimes they are legit, like this situation…”

    I want to give you the benefit of the doubt, but that’s reading pretty victim-blaming douchebag.

  18. Valerie
    Valerie March 8, 2010 at 10:03 pm |

    Sailorman, I have no doubt that rapists would apologize if they knew they wouldn’t have to go to prison.
    They’d be Meryl F-ing Streep with their apologizes.

    How about we not set the bar so low that we can’t see it anymore?
    An apology and prison time is the only justice here.
    Maybe the campus can make the rapist apologize, but they can’t put them in prison to avoid future victims.
    It’s like everyone else has said, it’s the school looking after their own.

  19. Kate
    Kate March 8, 2010 at 11:58 pm |

    I graduated from UMass in 2003 and find this just completely appalling. When I was a student there, there was a rash rapes around campus that inspired the administration to distribute shriek alarms to all the female students (these don’t do much in terms of protection because they only work if someone is around to hear them). There was also an escalation of violence and rioting during my time there that resulted in campus police firing pepper spray bullets at students in the dormitories. In my opinion, the incidences of violence were always dealt with very poorly. It embarrasses me greatly because I also met some of the greatest people in my life and thoroughly enjoyed the positive experiences that I was a part of during my time there. UMass has a huge student body, and unfortunately the good always gets overshadowed by the bad. I will be writing to the current Chancellor of UMass to let him know that if he doesn’t take more aggressive action towards violent crimes such as this one, he can forget about alumni donations from me. I’ve passed this on to my fellow alumni in the hopes that they will feel the same way.

  20. Bene
    Bene March 9, 2010 at 5:27 am |

    As a Smith alum with friends living in the Five College area (including some UMASS alums), I’ve passed this on. A LOT of people converge on Amherst at the weekend, and this is a massive concern, not only for UMASS students, but for everyone in the area.

  21. Sailorman
    Sailorman March 9, 2010 at 8:55 am |

    Valerie, I am not suggesting that I think an apology is “appropriate,” though even there I’d add the caveat “…unless that’s what the victim wants.”

    But the concept of a reduction in punishment in exchange for an open confession has been around a long, long, time. That usually reflects the reality that getting convictions is hard. Especially for rape, as we know. It’s not necessarily a good thing to have the establishment making that choice, but it’s good to have the choice available to the victim if she wants it.

    Is that ideal? No. The best thing would be if crime never happened in the first place; second best would be if everyone who committed a crime was caught and punished. But those aren’t happening here (or anywhere else,) unfortunately.

  22. The Chemist
    The Chemist March 9, 2010 at 10:00 am |

    Don’t most universities receive at least some federal funding? Sounds like it’s high time for another Franken Amendment.

    That said, I hate things like this because it makes things difficult for the innocent as well as the victim. If you’re innocent, but offered a choice between an admission of guilt and expulsion- you just might go for the admission of guilt. Now you have two victims and the perpetrator gets away. That’s a lot of power for the university to have- especially since the university is rarely equipped to actually make determinations of guilt- something the police are better equipped to do.

  23. Kathygnome
    Kathygnome March 9, 2010 at 11:06 am |

    So the rapist wandering around U-Mass is bad, but it’s ok if they expel him and he wanders around the rest of Amherst raping women? Or he goes home and rapes women there? The problem is he’s wandering around.

    I think this entire concept of providing kangaroo court justice for students is nothing more than enabling offenders. There should not even be a U-Mass administrative process for a crime like rape. It is out of their pay grade. It should be handled by the courts where this guy can be locked away.

  24. William
    William March 9, 2010 at 11:14 am |

    I’m with Kathy, as appalling as the UMASS response was, its far more appalling that they would even have the opportunity to “handle” a felony like rape. I know that the police and courts aren’t much better, but christ…

  25. Faith
    Faith March 9, 2010 at 11:23 am |

    “But those aren’t happening here (or anywhere else,) unfortunately.”

    And the solution to that isn’t to lower the bar in exchange for a paltry “I did it”. The solution is to actually create a justice system that works. Your arguments about the victim having the decision is also irrelevant. While I fully support a woman’s right to not press charges due to the fact that I understand the shit that she will have to go through if she does, the victim does not have the right to make the decision to see the rapists punishment lowered. Rapists typically do not only rape one woman. They rape many. It is up to society at large – and all those who may be harmed – to decide the appropriate punishment for the criminal, not only the victim.

  26. Sailorman
    Sailorman March 9, 2010 at 12:15 pm |

    The solution is to actually create a justice system that works.
    Well, yes.

    But what does “work” mean? Our justice system is designed to acquit people unless there is evidence against them beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s also designed to give defendants a variety of Constitutional protections. The system strives for accuracy, but it also weighs false convictions much more highly than false acquittals.

    In the context of a rape discussion, when people complain about the system they almost always mean “we don’t convict enough rapists!” And no, we don’t; I agree. But there are really only two-and-a-half ways to change that problem, and they’re very very different in effect.

    The first way is the best: you can improve accuracy. Accuracy is good, and also it’s neutral. Accuracy would convict more of the guilty, and refrain from convicting the innocent. Better police investigations improve accuracy; so does better testing and better rape kits and such. The justice system strives for accuracy.

    The “half way” is to try to improve accuracy by removing Constitutional protections. We could force the accused to testify against themselves. We could compel family members to testify. We could allow for warrantless searches, which might turn up valuable evidence. Whether or not you support it, these would generally require a constitutional amendment to accomplish.

    The other way is that you can change the balance between %wrongfully convicted and % wrongfully acquitted. Note that this is a BALANCE. That’s why accuracy is better: improved accuracy reduces wrongful findings of either kind. Fiddling with the process involves tradeoffs. If you want to convict more people, some of them will be innocent and the convictions will be undeserved. [shrug] This can be a perfectly valid way to go about it; plenty of other countries use different legal standards than we. But it’s always important to understand that it’s a tradeoff, not a benefit without costs.

  27. Sailorman
    Sailorman March 9, 2010 at 12:19 pm |

    And as for this:

    Faith 3.9.2010 at 11:23 am
    And the solution to that isn’t to lower the bar in exchange for a paltry “I did it”.

    “Paltry?” Not necessarily. Depends on what your goal is. Did you read my post about the TRC, above, and do you understand how huge a deal that was? Sometimes what you are referring to as a “paltry” solution can be the root of enormous change.

    There are two problems, OK? One is the individual victim’s problem. The other is the widespread societal problem, in which something (rape, apartheid, abuse, racism, sexism, you name it) is minimized, downplayed, denied, passed off as irrelevant, etc.

    We usually end up trying to solve the societal problem through individual action. But then we run up against the collective action paradox: even if society would benefit by getting all individuals to do X, the cost of being one of a few people to do X is far, far, too high. So nobody does it.

    If you want to apply it to rape, I’ll do so in a HYPOTHETICAL:

    Let’s say that you could offer “rape amnesty” in the method put out by the TRC. Any person who had raped someone could make a complete and full public confession.

    Crazy, yes? Horrible, yes?

    Now, let’s say that instead of 3% of rapes resulting in convictions, and all the remaining ones being stuck in legal hell or–worse–victim blaming… well, let’s say that people confessed in, oh, 85% of rapes.

    You didn’t get to stick 3% in jail. But you found out who the other 82% were, and you had society’s full support for the fact that the victims were telling the truth. And you made it impossible for anyone to deny that those rapes were happening, or to minimize, downplay, pass off as irrelevant, victim-blame, etc.

    In other words, you force perception to match reality.

    Is that a net benefit to society? I dunno. It certainly was for South Africa, all things being considered. It’s not obvious that such a move wouldn’t result in a sea change regarding rape, either. I’m not suggesting it is, or should be, a panacea. But there are a lot of potential ways to try to fix the system, and that’s one of them.

  28. catfood
    catfood March 9, 2010 at 12:36 pm |

    @TheChemist:

    Sounds like it’s high time for another Franken Amendment.

    Hear, hear.

    Also, what the others said about campus “justice” dealing with rape cases. WTF? Do colleges handle their own murder and terrorism cases too?

  29. Shelby
    Shelby March 9, 2010 at 12:54 pm |

    I’m with Sailorman. I think victim-centered, community-based solutions are key. Coming from a sort of anti-colonialist perspective, I have huge problem w/ the idea that justice=prison.

  30. Henry
    Henry March 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm |

    For UMASS, what would they do if this student had run up to a female student and ripped her purse from her shoulder? (a roberry offense) – I highly doubt he would have been given a deferred suspension (essentially a don’t this again or next time we might actually punish you). With UMASS’s standards, students should feel free to hold up the university bookstore when they are short of beer money or need help with tuition. Being out of the university setting for going on 15+ years now, I had hoped the days of sweeping sex-offenses under the rug were over. The typical university system effectively pushes victims to not press charges – with statements in student handbooks like “you have the right not to press charges”. Subtext of something like this is “we the authority which houses, feeds, and educates you does not want you to press charges even if you have the right to.” How about: “we encourage you to press charges, but you have the right not to if you don’t want to”

    The fact that universities think they are qualified to handle violent criminal matters smacks of academic arrogance -a “since we are so smart we know how to run our very own internal judicial system, and since keeping the image of the campus as a “center of learning” is so damn important we can build a secret parallel criminal tribunal to handle violent felonies” attitude – and even if they did use their “ultimate penalty” and expell him, that’s just shifting the criminal to someone else’s neighborhood.

  31. Faith
    Faith March 9, 2010 at 2:16 pm |

    “Coming from a sort of anti-colonialist perspective, I have huge problem w/ the idea that justice=prison.”

    I have a huge problem with violent criminals being allowed to walk the streets just because they said “I did it.”

    I can understand that a confession can be helpful for multiple reasons, but behaving as if it is enough is not at all helpful when faced with the reality that it would not be enough to keep that rapist from raping again.

  32. Sailorman
    Sailorman March 9, 2010 at 2:47 pm |

    Faith:

    I can understand that a confession can be helpful for multiple reasons, but behaving as if it is enough is not at all helpful when faced with the reality that it would not be enough to keep that rapist from raping again.

    Maybe not here. But policy isn’t individual; policy is general.

    So we’re talking about two different things. You’re asking “should this confessed rapist be punished?” I’mnot disagreeing with you. But I’m ALSO asking “what is the most efficient way in general to meet the long term goal of stopping rape?” And generally speaking, a confession is only usually forthcoming if someone doesn’t think that it will screw them over.

    It’s like if you have kids:

    You ask them to tell you the truth about what happened.

    If you punish them for telling the truth then they’ll eventually figure out that you won’t catch them most of the time if they lie.

    So they’ll lie. And you won’t catch most of the lies.

    So you raise the punishment, since you’re still trying to deter bad behavior and you can only catch an occasional one.

    So that gives them more incentive to lie.

    Sound familiar? It’s a lot like our justice system. And it’s a very common practice. But it’s by no means the only valid practice.

  33. Shelby
    Shelby March 9, 2010 at 4:27 pm |

    @Faith, I was speaking more generally. I don’t think someone giving a confession and going about their business should be the default position. Just like I don’t think criminalization should be the default position. I think the community should support the victim in healing and follow their lead when coming up with a means of dealing with the offender. Sometimes that’s prison. Sometimes that’s neighborhood watch. Sometimes that’s mothers, fathers, and church leaders spreading the word about dangerous people. Or a mix of all those things. You have to remember, the criminal justice system *itself* inflicts a lot of the sexual violence some communities face. Of course in this situation I’m not sure trading one institution for another (the unversity for the police) is really that much better. But I’d definitely defer to the survivor and her community in deciding what should and should not be done.

  34. Gina
    Gina March 11, 2010 at 12:57 pm |

    I lived in Amherst for almost 15 years, and this is by far not the first time something like this has happened. Usually, when even a rumor of a woman being uncomfortabe with a male student’s behavior started floating around, she got backlash. Example: In the dorm where my then-boyfriend was an R.A., some of the bathrooms were informally used co-ed. Some women complained because some men would shower on either side of a them, lokking over the side of the stall and causing them to feel violated, exposed and trapped. When they complained about this, they were accused of being bitchy, hysterical, and drama queens. Lovely.

    The whole intense shaming and discrediting of women who even expressed being uncomfortable with mens’ behavior, really scared me. And the lesson hit home. I never heard of anyone actually reporting rape to the police. I don’t know that it never was reported, but I do know how young men accused of assault were treated. Often, like victims themselves.

  35. William
    William March 11, 2010 at 2:27 pm |

    But I’d definitely defer to the survivor and her community in deciding what should and should not be done.

    As a survivor of rape I’d like to respectfully ask you a question. Why the fuck should the community have any goddamn say at any point in any way? I’m not the property of my community, and if they think they have a stake in me that allows them to have a say in whether or not I can seek justice then the community can kiss my ass.

    I’m somewhat sympathetic to the argument that the victim ought to have a say in how their case is handled, but all giving them community a say will ever do is stand in the way of the victim and create yet another outlet for rape appologism. We’re there already, thats the core of the idea of a “rape culture.” Rape victims don’t owe their communities a thing. That relationship is unidirectional and the entire responsibility rests on the shoulders of the community. If the community fails to support a victim adequately that is a problem with the community, one which ought to trigger criminal and civil proceedings if the victim so chooses. The suggestion that the community gets a say in whether or what kind of justice a victim can seek is repugnant.

  36. Marksman2000
    Marksman2000 March 11, 2010 at 10:34 pm |

    I’m thinking twice of applying to UMass for graduate school now.

  37. Sailorman
    Sailorman March 12, 2010 at 9:47 am |

    William 3.11.2010 at 2:27 pm
    As a survivor of rape I’d like to respectfully ask you a question. Why the fuck should the community have any goddamn say at any point in any way? I’m not the property of my community, and if they think they have a stake in me that allows them to have a say in whether or not I can seek justice then the community can kiss my ass.

    I’m somewhat sympathetic to the argument that the victim ought to have a say in how their case is handled, but all giving them community a say will ever do is stand in the way of the victim and create yet another outlet for rape appologism.

    I’m missing something here: if it’s no community input and you’re only sympathetic to the argument for victim input, then who has the input? Are you using “community” in a way which is distinct from “society,” which would explain my confusion…?

  38. William
    William March 12, 2010 at 5:24 pm |

    I’m missing something here: if it’s no community input and you’re only sympathetic to the argument for victim input, then who has the input? Are you using “community” in a way which is distinct from “society,” which would explain my confusion…?

    Well, my gut response would be that the victim ought to have input as an individual unencumbered by the demands of a society which generally does not have a victim’s needs and concerns in mind.

    I was responding to Shelby (@ #33) who was making a general comment about criminalization of rape being a poor automatic response. She argued that prison not always being the best response to a rape and that sometimes a neighborhood watch or church leaders spreading the word might be the right response (I also noticed the conspicuous absence of direct individual action on her list of possible responses). She also made a comment about the prison system inflicting sexual violence on inmates which, while true, I took to imply that the moral stance would be to not expose rapists to that threat.

    To me, those arguments together seemed like an argument that instead of automatically bringing the criminal justice system into the mix we ought to respond to rape with some kind of community involvement. I think that such a suggestion is vile. I know that the criminal justice system is imperfect (it failed me), but I can imagine the rage and utter devaluation I would have felt if someone sat me down and said “now I know you were raped but really jail is a very bad place and it can be counterproductive and the person who raped you is a person too so we’ll just have everyone be more careful around them.” I know how hard it was for me to deal with a failed prosecution, I know how hard it was to know he was out there and everyone involved thought it was wrong, I know how hard it was to resist doing something impulsive when I was finally old enough to do damage and saw him out in the community.

    Maybe Shelby was using “community” to mean “society as a whole,” but even then I think her argument fails. The prosecution of rape should not be a cost benefit analysis. If the victim chooses to pursue charges it should go to court, period. The fact that our criminal justice system is a piece of garbage and that our jails are hell holes is not an argument for changing the way we deal with rapists, it is an argument for reforming our criminal justice and prison systems. But the community? Fuck them, they weren’t the victim, they shouldn’t get a vote in how a case should be handled. Otherwise you end up with a system in which those big, strong, or privileged enough can seek their own justice (losing even more of themselves in the process) while everyone else suffers in silence.

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