Sulkowicz’s story: universities treat assault with contempt

Demonstration against sexual assault at Columbia University

No justice, no peace.

Emma Sulkowicz was not the first woman to be raped at a university in the United States. She is, unfortunately, far from the last. The epidemic of sexual assault in the college system, like the similar scourge in the military, comes from a fundamental lack of accountability. Internal justice systems in colleges do not incorporate best practices for victims of assault, and police departments around the country are still skeptical of both female and male victims.

A transcript of Emma’s interview at Democracy Now! is available here. The sea change in the past couple years has been driven exclusively by victims- not finding accountability at their own institutions, they began looking beyond to the Office of Civil rights and their powers using Title IX (PDF) to smash apart a conspiracy of silence.

My old credit union had copies of the Stanford Daily, so I have read the paper several times each school year. A recurring motif is the inadequacy of existing courts and boards to handle sexual assault cases. Victims are not given due consideration. They often have to meet their attacker several times as a case works through the system. No-contact orders and other paperwork issued by the university do not address two key issues: the alleged rapist is still on campus with little real separation from the victim, and anyone who has been accused of rape may be a threat to other people.

Orientation for the four-year university I will attend next month included much information on consent and where the sexual assault resource center is. But education is not nearly enough. Rapists will still exist, and the key question is what sanctions and legal action will be taken against those who are accused of a crime. As Columbia blog bwog states:

“In New York State, first-degree rape is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 25 years.  At Columbia, a student found responsible for rape, groping, or harassment could potentially receive the same punishment given to underage students found in possession of alcohol.”

Sexual assault is a violent felony. Keeping suspects on the same small campus as victims is a terrible idea. It is disturbing that elite institutions, that stress their advanced education and community, are just as backwards on this issue as lesser schools. And that a woman must carry a mattress around for weeks to get attention is horrible and degrading. Those that are harmed should get the respect and attention they deserve without resorting to high-profile stunts.

Even in 2014, it is clear that a woman’s body is not given the same legal protection as a man’s. Executive leaderships still can’t believe that what these people say is likely true, and that factors like alcohol and drug use are distractions from the core problem.

The university is losing authority by the week, as complaints now go both to the federal government and the police. Central to this discussion is the dilemma, that perhaps there are many crimes that should not be dealt with by a school. Perhaps one day these places will have a sexual assault policy as enlightened as their academics.

Perhaps not.

It’s disgusting.

Please follow and support a great anti-domestic violence non-profit

My writing skills now have a challenge beyond just throwing stuff up on this blog. I now help out with communications and social media with Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence, based in San Jose, CA, which was the first group in the nation to provide a 24/7 bilingual services hotline- back in 1971. They do amazing work on less money than they deserve, and I’d ask that you follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Their Facebook is here.

Follow @NDsolutions on Twitter.

Learning empathy, resolving identity, rejecting violence against women

In my Ring The Bell promise, I said I would continue to write on the subject of sexual violence and oppression against women. So here are some thoughts.

Born a white cisgendered male, I have two fundamental flaws. My life has been about first acknowledging these flaws, then working to overcome them.

First- the sheer blindness I have towards discrimination and unfair treatment. Only through reading Audre Lorde, Malcolm X, and right now Jimmy Santiago Baca’s memoir A Place to Stand have I began to appreciate how fixed the game is. Much like how a member of Congress can support and defend a war that they themselves do not have to fight, one is tempted to shut their ears and eyes and pretend that injustice is cleansed from our society. And many white, male Americans have retreated into this cocoon, and ignore what other people are suffering through.

The problem is distance, and the solution is an ever-vigilant campaign to understand and to empathize. In the civil rights battles of our time, white men like myself either stand with the enemies, or sit the fight out. An awakening to injustice in its countless forms: racial discrimination in arrests and sentencing, stop-and-frisk policies that almost exclusively target minority youth, and the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment across continents. Two weeks ago I wrote about how every country in the world has slaves– even countries that consider themselves enlightened and in a morally superior position on the global stage. The Walk Free Foundation says that just under thirty million people are treated as slaves. A strong majority of them are women, including many under the age of 18.

It seems impossible that in my own California county sex slaves are routinely found in police operations. Even if I personally do not mistreat women, it is because of men- as sexual consumers, as organized criminals, as buyers of goods that are far too cheap to come from voluntary labor- that this system continues. The bottom line is that violence, discrimination, and oppression- are not someone else’s problem. They are everyone’s problem.

The second flaw is an issue of identity. White men are often under siege as a major group perpetuating discrimination and abuse. This is statistically true, and many civil rights campaigns ended up against a power clique dominated by white men . One can become defensive from all of this- feel that they are personally being blamed. But just because other white people, other men, other cisgendered individuals are part of the problem doesn’t mean I am the same. This underlying primal mentality- to defend groups that look like you- is dangerous and has to be overcome.

So the first flaw requires an ability to understand the world, and learn from other people in different circumstances. The second is liberation to act for justice, not solely as a white man who sees the world in a very specific way. I am not just white, I am not just male, I am not just an American citizen. I am Andrew Mackay- and my concerns are universal.

This is all a complicated way of saying simple things. While I will never fully understand the plight of women, or another ethnic group, I can understand the conflicts going on among men- especially white men. Coming over to a side that speaks out against sexual violence requires a stark reading of your own philosophy and ideas of what is and what is not important. Some men are almost through the process, and will join me to continue on the path. Others have not even started yet. But there are millions of them, and without them only so much justice can be done.


You are not, and never will be entitled to sex

There’s been a tumblr post circulating among my Facebook friends to support the idea that there exists a “rape culture” in America, and it demands serious action. Rape in our culture is a point of contention between various groups- debates over whether rape jokes are socially acceptable, or if the term is used too casually have happened again and again in the past few years.

The statistics in the post are legitimate, and are collected with citations here. A series of surveys and academic articles, published between 1981 and 1994, found widespread acceptance of rape among middle school and college students. In a disturbing result, many young girls accepted rape as justified in some circumstances- sometimes at a rate equal to young boys.

This data is compelling, but dated. However, an exhaustive survey by the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey has been published recently, thanks to significant support from government agencies. It is stark in its conclusions: if the rate of sexual abuse has gone down, it hasn’t gone down much. In the 1988 college survey, about one in four women reported rape or attempted rape. In the 2011 report, it was one in five.

I don’t mean to drown this post with statistics; rather, I want a strong grounding to stand on going forward. More below the fold.

Continue reading “You are not, and never will be entitled to sex”