Sunday, October 28, 2012

The news from Amherst

[Trigger warning for sexual assault accounts at the links and phrases below.]

The New York Times story on the dismissal of a rape survivor's story at Amherst and of the institutional response is horrifying. Most horrifying is the attempt to gaslight the victim into questioning what she saw, felt, experienced, and had (in the institution's mind) the audacity to report. 

She was asked "Are you sure it was rape?" and told she couldn't change rooms despite feeling unsafe.  She was told not to seek justice, since it would be pointless. She was sent away and institutionalized for a time. 

While the responses she and others received from friends are terrible, the ones from the institution are worse.  The former try to mitigate a terrible reality, but the latter--from administrators who should know better--try to convince her that nothing ever happened, that the real problem is her response to being assaulted and wanting to see something done about it, presumably to insulate the institution from any liability or responsibility for what happened. 

We have all read about this sort of response for too many years--of victims forced to sit in "mediation sessions" with the rapist on campuses, of military survivors of rape labeled with a mental illness and discharged from the service without benefits rather than having the rape dealt with as an assault, which this case disturbingly brought to mind.

A cynical person would conclude that the institutions are only concerned when issues of liability or publicity are brought into the picture, but I think it's more complicated than that: there needs to be immediate change not just in the rhetoric of dealing with assault but in campus culture and methods of response, including the increasing involvement of professionals. Amherst president Dr. Biddy Martin has said that this must stop and she seems to mean business:
But in her first year here, after hearing from students, she made several changes, like having trained investigators look into those cases, revising the student handbook, and hiring a nationally known consultant, Gina M. Smith, to review and revise Amherst’s approach. She . . . released a statement that had neither the defensiveness nor the bland wait-and-see that are common to institutional responses, declaring that things “must change, and change immediately.” She made more administrative changes, and said in an interview in her office on Thursday that she is inclined to make more still, like having experts — rather than shifting panels of professors and students — adjudicate complaints.
Let's hope that this kind of proactive response spreads, and let's demand it at our institutions. 

4 comments:

nicoleandmaggie said...

Good lord. I am glad I did not go to Amherst. My undergrad took rape very seriously. We spent what seemed like an entire day during freshman orientation on the subject of date rape, most of it on "how not to do it" and the different avenues of how to report it. Our campus policy was if you do not get a verbal yes, then for their purposes it is rape. If the partner was under the influence at the time, even if saying yes, then it is rape according to the campus. I remember a lot of guys on my hall didn't like that, but those were the rules. ("What if we're both drunk?" "Don't get drunk!" "Won't asking for a yes kill the mood?" "It won't.") We also got periodic reminders about the policy and published crime statistics for the campus.

At a small school like Amherst, you would think the last thing they would want would be a serial rapist and an unsafe female student body.

nicoleandmaggie said...

Read more of the story. One of the frats on our campus did something similar to that frat incident, and they were shut down for at least a year, maybe longer. Come to think of it, a frat where I did my grad work did something similar and they were shut down for a year as well. Amherst was really dropping the ball.

Z said...

We take it seriously when we don't like the perpetrator, but when we do, we gaslight the victim.

undine said...

Nicoleandmaggie--that kind of training ought to be the norm. The thing is that repetition (no means no, etc.), which seems a lot at the time, is what kicks in when crunch time comes.

Z--Awesomely stated but a really disturbing thought.