Campus

Columbia junior speaks at launch of Sen. Gillibrand's effort to fight sexual assault on college campuses

Updated, 8:26 p.m.

On Tuesday afternoon, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand came to Columbia, CBS New York reported, to speak about the bipartisan letter she co-authored calling for $100 million in federal funding to make investigations and enforcement of sexual assault on campus more timely. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri also co-authored the letter, which was signed by 12 other senators.

Gillibrand was joined at the event by Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, CC '15, and Emma Sulkowicz, CC ’15, who discussed her own experience with sexual assault. Sulkowicz said that she was raped on the first day of her sophomore year and that she lost confidence in the University’s adjudication process when her attacker, who she said was also a suspect in two other sexual assaults, was never punished.

“My rapist—a serial rapist—still remains on campus, even though three of the women he assaulted reported him to my university’s Office of Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct,” Sulkowicz said in a press release. “Every day I live in fear of seeing him. I can’t help but think of all the other students who have been trough similar ordeals, knowing the fear they must feel, too. I know all too well how important it is that all universities comply with the Clery Act and the Title IX act of 1972. This is why I am thankful for the steps senator Gillibrand has taken to fight such a widespread problem. I support her cause.”

Sexual assault policy has been in the spotlight at Columbia since last semester, when the Columbia University College Democrats circulated a petition to make the adjudication policy more transparent. This semester, University President Lee Bollinger announced changes to the policy, including that Columbia would release data on how it adjudicates sexual assault and allow the University Senate to amend the President’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault. Administrators and students discussed their concerns at a town hall last month.

“When our young people go on to higher education, it should be an opportunity to learn, grow, pursue their dreams and prepare for their future careers,” Gillibrand said in a press release. “But the price of a college education should not include a 1 in 5 chance of being sexually assaulted. America’s colleges and universities are the best in the world. But it is simply unacceptable that they become havens for rape and sexual assault. It is time to take this crisis head on and end the scourge of sexual assault on our college campuses, hold offenders accountable, and keep our students safe.”

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Anonymous posted on

I would like to preface what is sure to offend some with a few notes - Firstly, I abhor rape and sexual assault as crimes. Secondly, I have the deepest sympathy for those who have been affected by it. Thirdly, I have the deepest respect for women such as those quoted in the above article who have taken their experiences, and gone on to attempt to affect positive changes in their communities. Now on to the controversy:

Unfortunately, I feel that Columbia's "No Red Tape" campaign, as well as Sen. Gillibrand's efforts to 'combat' rape seem at best ineffectual, and at worst, self-indulgent. No Red Tape is campaigning for university transparency on the frequency of rape occurring, and for better judicial processes in prosecuting, or at least disciplining, rapists on campus. While these are surely noble goals in theory, I don't know if they will do a great deal to fix the problem. Everyone on Columbia's campus is familiar with 'the rape problem' here. If and when the statistics are released, it won't terribly matter whether we discover 10 women on campus are raped a year, or 100 women are raped on campus a year. Rape will be as abhorred after the statistics are released, as it is currently. No-one who was once a rapist, or a rape-advocate, or even complicit in some abstract notion of 'rape-culture' will see the statistics and suddenly decide to reform their ways. Rather than this effort being a way to prevent rape then, it seems more like an achievable 'notch on the belt' that will justify No Red Tape's existence and efforts without really doing anything to alleviate the problem.

With regard to No Red Tape's efforts to improve the judicial process at Columbia, this is also in theory a noble goal. I have heard first hand how the adjudication process has failed survivors on Columbia's campus, but in most cases these processes failed simply because there was insufficient evidence. Unfortunately, rape is an extraordinarily hard crime to prove. Without rape kits, which currently aren't available on campus, it is practically impossible to prove. Much as I might hate rapists, and much as I might know for a fact that some of them walk among us, it is simply not right to discipline or expel a student without solid proof of wrongdoing. I fear that no improvements in the judicial process will fix the fundamental fact that it is nigh-on impossible to prove guilt in rape cases. As with the last goal then, this seems more like a box to tick for No Red Tape's campaign, than an effort to reduce rape on campus.

Which brings me on to Gillibrand's campaign. Again - it sounds terribly noble to levy 100 million dollars of federal funding to improve investigations into rape on college campuses, but how effective can such an effort really be? From her perspective, this whole thing reeks of "getting the women's vote", rather than doing anything that has a chance in hell of reducing the frequency of rapes that occur on campus.

At the end of the day, rapists will rape. Everyone at Columbia has experienced 18 years of strong conditioning that rape is bad, and that we shouldn't rape. I would be willing to estimate that some 80-90% of men have taken this message to heart, much as we've taken the message to heart that murder is wrong, or that stealing is wrong. For those 80-90% of us, we would always step in to prevent a rape if we saw it occurring, and we would always entirely shun/cast-out or otherwise exile any member of our friend group that engaged in such an activity.

Of course, the remaining men are the issue. These are not men who don't know what rape it. These are not men who are confused about what a boundary is. We have all learned these things. These are men who don't care. They value their sexual pleasure, or the power trip they get from committing rape, over the well-being or happiness of those they rape. These men are sociopaths for all intents and purposes. The word 'sociopaths' used not as a way to abstractly insult, degrade, or attack these men. Rather, used in its literal sense - incapable of feeling empathy for others. If they weren't sociopaths, and given the fact that made it to a school like Columbia, and so were CERTAINLY taught along the way precisely what rape is and why it is bad, then they simply would not engage in the behavior.

These men will not be put off by published rape statistics. They won't be put off by "improved judicial processes", because they know full well that rape is almost impossible to prosecute or prove. They won't be put off by "anti-rape culture pressure" because they are sociopathic and don't care whether or not their friends of acquaintances shun them. The evidence bears this out - it is conceivable that up to 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted during college, but certainly not conceivable that 1 in 5 men are guilty of such attacks. Rather, only about 6% of men rape, and these men are generally culpable for more than 6 rapes each. That is to say, a very small number of men are serial rapists, and they account for over 90% of rapes on college campuses.

Until you address those people, none of these efforts will fix anything. They simply won't reduce the frequency of rape. These are efforts by groups and individuals which do little else than to justify their own efforts - make survivors feel proactive as a therapy for their trauma; make activists feel useful and make names for themselves in the activist world; make politicians look sympathetic and hardworking.

How do you address serial rapists who are fully aware of their crimes, simply don't care, and are essentially unprosecutable by the college judicial system? I don't know. My fear is that I suspect you can't.

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Anonymous posted on

Why do these women have to go through the University to seek justice? If you are attacked, go to the hospital and have the "exam" and concurrently have the police respond and take a statement. Next, the person in question, which Ms. Sulkowicz seems to know from how the article reads, can be questioned by the police and charged if that is warranted. Hence, no University involvement. Once the perpetrator is convicted, he won't be at campus anymore.

With a police record established, it seems reasonable that the University can provide counseling to victims which would be part of the medical insurance associated with the cost of tuition. Other than that, what else should a University be expected to do?

Have I missed something?

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wtf posted on

Why is no one publishing the name of the accused? He acknowledged his participation. Make him publicly explain his side of the story.

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Anonymous posted on

Congratulations, Columbia, at being the only university in the nation to take this seriously and actually move into action.

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UM posted on

Columbia did not actually move into action until tons of students, like these, fought and raised our own voices to make this possible. The reforms announced thus far have been fairly minor and are not tackling any of the root causes or responding to the continued presences of rapists on campus. AND this student's rapist is still on campus--so much for taking this seriously.

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