John Foubert: There's a rape problem on college campuses. Most universities do little about it
Rolling Stone article highlights alleged gang rape at University of Virginia
When he was assistant dean there, administrators responded poorly to rape allegations
Foubert: Men responsible for rape need expulsion. Colleges must educate, not tolerate
Editor’s Note: John Foubert is the author of “The Men’s and Women’s Programs: Ending Rape Through Peer Education” (Taylor & Francis). He is the founder and national president of One in Four, a public nonprofit rape prevention organization with 15 campus-based chapters whose programs have been presented to 100,000-plus college students and military personnel worldwide. He is a professor of higher education and student affairs at Oklahoma State University
The nation’s colleges have a serious rape problem. Five percent of college women experience rape or attempted rape every year on campus. Most universities are doing little to nothing about this.
From 1998 to 2000, I was an assistant dean of students at the University of Virginia. Of the six universities where I have worked, the University of Virginia stands out among them for not only the frequency of rape allegations but also for the unresponsiveness of administrators.
This issue, which affects so many students, is finally coming into light, led by the excellent reporting of Sabrina Rudin Erdely in Rolling Stone, detailing an alleged, horrific gang rape in a Virginia fraternity.
Only now is the university really doing anything about it, some two years later. Its most recent action is to suspend all fraternities through Jan. 9, some 45 days or so. To an outsider this might seem like an admirable first step. In reality, it is a farce.
Suspending fraternities’ functions at this point essentially means that they are not able to have official parties during the week between Thanksgiving and final exams. One week. Fraternities are self-supporting houses off campus anyway, so who is to say they won’t just have a social gathering in their houses and not call it a party?
The trouble runs deeper, though. Recent interviews with university administrators show that they are highly reluctant to expel a student who commits rape (watch this eye-opening video). When I worked there, I was once asked to meet with a student who had been found responsible for sexual assault. He was instructed to read a book about sexual assault and then discuss it with me. That hardly seems like an adequate punishment.
I also sat through sexual assault board hearings where clear cut cases of rape occurred and supported survivors when they found out that the perpetrator was found “not responsible.” In most cases I was aware of, male students were not found responsible. Occasionally suspensions would occur; those were, of course, temporary.
During my tenure there, rape survivors would commonly tell me that they had wanted to file charges against their attacker but were told by administrators that their cases were more fit for mediation. It is unconscionable to mediate a felony. And in fact, the Office of Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education ordered universities in 2011 to stop mediating rape cases.
But the Office of Civil Rights doesn’t seem to have deterred Virginia much. In a morally abhorrent move – one I hope will be found illegal by the civil rights office during its investigation of the university’s handling of sexual assaults – Virginia actually offered complainants a process for an “informal resolution” that sounds just like a mediation process. It also theoretically allows the school to avoid publicly acknowledging a rape happened and ignores the threat to the safety of the community. Men who are responsible for rape need expulsion, not just a chance to give an insincere apology to avoid serious consequences.
Let’s remember that while recent news makes the University of Virginia seems more egregious than most institutions, a lot of students there are making a big difference – men in the One in Four chapter and women in the One Less organization. They are pushing hard to make a difference They are working hard to educate their fellow students about the reality of rape and how to prevent it, and we all need to support them.
We also need to remember that ultimately, we don’t do a lot of good focusing on just one university. It is time to use research-based programs like The Men’s Program, The Women’s Program, Green Dot, MVP and Bringing in the Bystander to eradicate this problem. Furthermore, we need universities to have adjudication processes that are accessible to and trusted by students. Let’s all work together to create a culture that reliably prevents rape and punishes rapists.