When I saw the preview for this week's Law and Order SVU I knew that it was going to follow the pattern of many of their previous episodes about sexual assault on a college campus. A young woman would be assaulted and campus authorities would hinder their investigation with a cover up. Sure enough, it followed that pattern. This time it placed the blame squarely on the Dean of Student Affairs shoulders. There was an obvious allusion to Steubenville.
Here's my issues. Over the course of the entire 60 minute episode there was no mention of the Title IX Dear Colleague letter that came out in April of 2011. For me, SVU just hugely perpetuated rape culture by not referencing a major new policy piece intended to help students and sent the message to not report sexual assault on campus.
Jez posted a blurb about this a while back, but it's important to reiterate. This letter was major and focused on the idea that sexual violence interferes with a students basic right to an education without discrimination. To quote from a Chronicle of Higher Education article:
The letter says that institutions must adhere to a three-part protocol: distributing a notice of nondiscrimination to students, employees, and others on campuses; designating a Title IX coordinator to oversee complaints; and adopting and publishing grievance procedures that provide "prompt and equitable resolution" of complaints.
The letter includes other specific examples of what institutions can and cannot do under Title IX. For example, "mediation is not appropriate even on a voluntary basis" between a victim and alleged perpetrator, says the letter. Institutions are also responsible for taking the proper "interim steps" to protect victims, such as moving the alleged victim or perpetrator to a new class or a different residence hall, providing counseling services to the complainant, or prohibiting the accused student from attending class for a period of time.
There are some other really great things that came out of Title IX. For one all cases related to sexual violence must be held to the preponderance standard. This means that the complainant only needs to demonstrate to a 51% standard that the violence occurred This is much less than the 99% standard in a court of law or the 75% standard of clear and convincing. It also means that if the complaintent is unhappy with the outcome of the case they also have the right to appeal the decision. That's right. If you're the person who was assualted and unhappy with the outcome of the case you can appeal it too. I could go on as there's a lot more, but you can read about it in the linked Chronicle article.
I know there are many of you that had bad experiences with sexual assault on college campus. I don't want to silence your voice and your experience as it is important to share. However, if you are in college now there is a lot of hope. Please know that there many administrators who strongly believe in social justice. There are many who read Jezebel. If you have a bad experience with one person—go above them. Go as high as you can. Not dealing with your sexual assault is a major federal issue. Revictimizing you can no longer happen.