We don’t need any more victim-blaming or survivor-shaming, especially not at Tufts

23 02 2009

According to Massachusetts state law (Chapter 233, Section 21b), evidence of a rape survivor’s prior sexual conduct is irrelevant in any investigation, hearing or other judicial proceedings before a jury. This makes sense obviously because what isn’t being called into question is how many people the survivor has slept with before, or whether the survivor likes kinky sex, but rather the incident of sexual assault or rape that the survivor is coming forward about at the moment.

However in the part of Tufts’ Student Judicial Process booklet that details what goes on involving hearings regarding sexual assault cases at Tufts, it says (bold emphasis mine):

The University applies some elements of the Massachusetts Rape Shield Statute concerning evidence about prior sexual conduct. Usually, no questions, testimony, or evidence about the sexual activity of a complaining or responding party with anyone beside the other party in the case may be introduced. However, if a party introduces information about his/her own sexual activity with someone besides the other party in the case, questions can then be asked about that relationship.

In rare cases, if a party can demonstrate that the opposing party has reason to lie about the allegations made, testimony about prior sexual conduct may be allowed. For example, there may be a preexisting condition or factor that makes it advantageous for the complaining party to have others believe that he or she had been an unwilling participant in the sexual encounter.

Okay. Where do I start? First maybe reiterating the state law would be helpful: prior sexual conduct is irrelevant in any sexual assault / rape court proceedings. Tufts may be a private institution but it still resides within the state of Massachusetts and is not exempt to obeying state law. Even if a party introduces part of his/her previous sexual experience or conduct, it should not be considered at all because it is irrelevant to the case at hand!!!!!

And the whole bit about how “if a party can demonstrate that the opposing party has reason to lie about the allegations made, testimony about prior sexual conduct may be allowed”?! For lack of better words, WTF?!! Obviously the accused will try to show that the accuser “has reason to lie about the allegations made” because s/he does not want to be convicted as a sexual assailant or a rapist! Of course s/he is going to try and discredit and/or smear the survivor as much as possible, which sadly isn’t hard to do because we do live in a rape culture after all.

Another thing the language suggests that some rape survivors lie about being raped. Why would anyone lie about rape and come forward with that allegation?! There’s a false perception out there that many rape survivors lie about it which is total bull because what would s/he gain from lying about rape? Not only are so many survivors shamed into silence, but the ones who do come forward are rarely believed. There is nothing to gain from lying about rape and since it’s such a taboo topic in society, people do not generally lie about it.

The unfortunate reality is that it tends to be a lose-lose situation for survivors. You can be raped, stay silent and the perpetrator goes on living his/her life perfectly fine. Or you can be raped, come forward and be publicly humiliated; face the perpetrator through lengthy court (or student judicial) proceedings; be asked awkward, uncomfortable and irrelevant questions; and still not be believed while the perpetrator goes on living his/her life unscathed.

It’s been said before but it’s important to remind people that rape is the most underreported crime on college campuses across the nation. We need to hold institutions (yes you, Tufts) accountable for flawed policies that do not support survivors and we need to pressure them to improve their policies that are more survivor-friendly and survivor-accessible. Otherwise Tufts (and/or other institutions) just becomes a hostile climate for survivors. For a school that preaches active citizenship, social responsibility and all that jazz, isn’t it hypocritical to have such a broken sexual assault/rape policy?


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9 responses

24 02 2009
angryblkfeminist

I actually was planning on posting about this this week!

More students definitely need to know about this. What’s saddening is that Tufts just changed their policies to include that clause about including a student’s past sexual history. Tufts changed these things why? because more survivors are coming forward and wanted to use Tufts’ judicial process, but instead of changing for the better it’s changing for the worse.

We need to stop this school from continuing to change their policies and resources to continue fostering a hostile environment for survivors. I, too, came forward last year that another student was abusive and not only did it act like they didn’t believe me, I was just spent days of my own time being led on when nothing was done with it. It’s truly embarrassing.

It’s ridiculous that Tufts just works to defend the perpetrators. What kind of top-institution does this?

24 02 2009
Stephanie

I think we definitely need to do something about the Tufts Judicial Process, since it obviously is illegal in the state of Massachusetts. This isn’t a gray area; the Tufts process clearly states that past sexual conduct and previous relationships are valid in the eyes of the judicial process, and the Massachusetts laws make it clear that those things are NOT valid in the eyes of the judicial process.

There’s nothing more that can be said. The Tufts process absolutely must be changed. It’s disgraceful.

24 02 2009
Narciso

Agreed. There have been a couple of high profile cases of falsely accused rape, the Duke lacrosse scandal of 2006 comes to mind. But I think this handful (if that) of occasions has been blown up by the media, leading to a false perception that it occurs frequently. In reality it never does, especially in light of the number of rapes that occur, reported and unreported. The media hasn’t helped, no big surprise there.

24 02 2009
angryblkfeminist

Regarding the whole high profile false-rape cases: we are living in a society that is basically controlled by the affluent, white men. So it is natural that when we hear about rapists it’s the big black man attacking the white women in the dark alleyway…when a little cute white girl disappears she’s all over the newspapers…

So of COURSE the media is going to concentrate and have a HUGE blow up when a black woman accuses a very popular athletic team. Also she was far from the “perfect victim” — a stripper! She MUST be lying! Unfortunately, it seems that she was. =\

25 02 2009
Emily

Wow, I’m really shocked by what angryblkfeminist said about this being a recent addition to the handbook. That’s ridiculous. I’m suspicious that there’s some sort of loophole to Tufts’ actions, because as much as I mistrust the administration, it is a stupid move to perform an illegal action. Do they just expect that they can legally outfight us (aka get better lawyers and sustain the lawsuit for much longer than they think we can), or is there some way that they can’t be held accountable for what they’re doing? I really want to investigate this.

25 02 2009
angryblkfeminist

I actually have an old Judicial Process Handbook and next week I intend to compare the two closely. I did some skimming yesterday and apparently that phrase WAS in the old handbook, but in the old handbook they made it very clear that those instances would be very hard to bring up and rarely do. In the new handbook that part was taken out.

I think Tufts sees a vulnerability in the survivors at Tufts. After going through such a humiliating process, most will not want to prolong the experience and go after Tufts. The perpetrators on the other hand, are much more likely to go after Tufts because they have everything to lose.

I’d hate to think that this is their thought process, but also Tufts tends to have a student body that generally comes from an affluent background. I think Tufts cares more about their rep to these rich soon-to-be-alumni than the broken spirited survivors.

26 02 2009
The Gender Blender Blog

[…] the greatest flaws in perpetuating injustice and oppression, and to connect this back to a previous post, Tufts’ failure to reform and improve its sexual assault policy to make it more accessible to […]

28 02 2009
Melissa

WOW I hope that you will write an article for a campus publication about this. I had no idea Tufts’ policy was so flawed and clearly at odds with MA law on this issue.

14 07 2009
Colleges and universities are legally responsible for preventing sexual assault « The Gender Blender Blog

[…] sexual assault policies that actually work and are implemented before (see here, here, here, here, here, and here for a taste), so here’s some relevant news.  The National Association of College […]

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