There is a great op-ed in today’s Tufts Daily called “Campus has weak sexual assault policy”. This is precisely what we will be talking with the administration about tonight at the Sexual Violence Community Forum (7 pm in the Metcalf Lounge).
Their statements were so outrageous that they begged disbelief. The students told me that Tufts routinely sends alleged rape victims and their attackers into mediation instead of investigating the crime. Students said the university’s sexual assault policy is so vague that it doesn’t even define sexual assault. One victim told me how the Judicial Affairs Committee drilled her on what she was wearing the night she was attacked.
Here? At Tufts? How could this be possible? I just completed my master’s thesis on violence against women in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco. I’ve been designing policies to protect destitute and marginalized women from harm in faraway countries. How could I fail to notice that my own university has been placing me in danger all along?
Yes, Tufts is obligated to protect women. It’s called Title IX, and it was promulgated to assure women equal access to education. Rape victims are disproportionately women; college campuses are, by default, more dangerous for women than men. Being afraid of rape or being a victim of sexual violence prevents women from fully benefiting from their education. One student said to me, “After I was raped, I stopped going to classes because I was too afraid to leave my apartment.” She failed out that semester and is still recovering. Title IX requires that schools mitigate the hostile environment by establishing strong sexual assault policies.
But Tufts’ sexual assault policy is criminally negligent. It doesn’t tell a crime victim how to get help after she’s been attacked. It doesn’t explain procedures for reporting a complaint or disciplining attackers. It doesn’t even tell a victim how to get access to an evidence collection kit — critical information for prosecuting rapists. Some of this information is scattered haphazardly across Tufts’ Web site. Why should a traumatized and terrified rape victim have to connect the dots?
According to the policy, a sexual assault victim can call the dean of students to report a rape. But how can the dean help her, since the office is only open during business hours? Rapists don’t typically strike between 9 and 5.
What’s worse, Tufts does not conduct investigations of sexual assault complaints, which is a flagrant violation of Title IX. Universities have been found to be in violation of Title IX when they place the burden of proof on the student as opposed to investigating the crime and reporting to a disciplinary hearing. Universities are legally required to do this in a timely manner in order to prevent the campus from becoming a hostile environment.
Two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from the Office of the Dean of Students about an alleged racial incident on campus. It made me wonder: Why haven’t I seen an e-mail like this from the last time a student was raped? Does the physical integrity of our students matter? Why isn’t the university outraged that so many female members of the Tufts community are being attacked on a regular basis?
One in four college women will be raped by the time they graduate. This campus is no exception. Rape happens at Tufts.
Correcting this very grave situation is perfectly straightforward. The university policy should be scrapped altogether and then redrawn based on student input. Tufts needs a real sexual assault policy that contains a clear definition of sexual assault, articulates the disciplinary process, promises equal treatment for victims (despite sexual orientation, race, sex, etc.), includes oversight, establishes meaningful prevention and education, provides 24-hour access to services for survivors and offers free long-term counseling. The current policy does none of these things.
I don’t want to graduate from a university that inexcusably places students in danger. It’s time to take sexual assault policy seriously. It’s time for Tufts to comply with Title IX.
Cybèle Cochran is a student at the Fletcher School majoring in International Relations.