Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Assault on sexual assault

 

OUR OPINION: Foot-dragging universities must take campus violence seriously

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

You wouldn’t think that anyone would have to tell the adults who oversee the nation’s colleges and universities that sexual assault is a traumatic physical violation that must be handled swiftly, seriously and with sensitivity.

You wouldn’t think that young women and men who allegedly have been raped by classmates would have their accusations trivialized, whitewashed and almost cavalierly dismissed by university authorities.

You wouldn’t think that the White House would have to weigh in on this.

But here we are.

Last week, the Obama administration released the names of 55 colleges and universities that are under federal investigation for what appears to be ham-handed and insensitive handling of rape allegations. Dartmouth, Harvard and Princeton are on the list; so are Boston University and the University of South California. Closer to home, unfortunately, Florida State University is among the institutions cited.

The White House rightly felt compelled to bring the weight of federal law to the issue — specifically, Title IX’s anti-discrimination provisions — in the wake of increasing outrage over how some universities have put their reputations ahead of the safety of their own students by trying to sweep sexual assault allegations under the rug. Students, in particular young women who have borne the brunt of mishandled investigations — some in which they, rather than their alleged assailant, became the interrogated targets — have turned into the most vocal sector of academia challenging how foot-dragging administrators at colleges and universities handle, or fail to handle, allegations of sexual assault.

First and foremost, rape is a crime. Administrators must keep that in mind. Instead, they’ve wasted time backpedaling from that reality, going so far as to rebrand rape — such an off-putting term! — as “non-consensual sex.” This is insulting revisionism, political correctness at its worst, not worthy of these institutions. But they persist, shying away from encouraging alleged assault victims from filing formal complaints and conducting flawed investigations incapable of getting to the bottom of who did what.

At the same time, many incidents are complicated by the fact that for eons, young college men and women have studied, socialized and slept together. That’s not going to change. But there is a new generation of young men for whom it needs to be made clear that “No” indeed means “No” — and that there will be real and serious consequences for proven, criminal violations.

There is also a new generation of women that needs to learn that binge drinking, a sorry bit of “fun” in which more and more college women are engaging, might make them popular with the guys, but also might turn them into targets for the men they think are friends — and who are just as stupid drunk, mean drunk or both.

Is that a step away from blaming the victim, as some advocates say? Of course not. Those same adults who would counsel a young woman to use birth control, park in a lighted area at night and not pick up hitchhikers couldn’t possibly be implying that they would leave “don’t get drunk and pass out” off their do-not-do list, could they?

Universities, much like the military, are on notice that sexual assault is a serious and debilitating issue that must be confronted head-on. Right now, too many young men and women are learning the wrong lessons at these institutions of higher learning.

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