Yang: Stalling on Sexual Assault

by Lorelei Yang | 2/4/15 6:10pm

In the wake of College President Phil Hanlon’s presentation of the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” plan last Thursday, I am surprised and disappointed to see students, faculty and national media fixate on the hard alcohol ban — a relatively minor part of the overall plan — rather than pointing out some of its glaring inadequacies. Given the amount of scrutiny that the College has come under for failing to meet its obligation to protect students under Title IX, it boggles the mind to see how paltry the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policies on sexual assault prevention and response truly are.

As a former executive in Movement Against Violence, a Sexpert and someone whose own life has been touched by sexual violence on this campus, I am profoundly disappointed to see “Moving Dartmouth Forward” rely on preventative education and incident response as the cornerstones of its sexual assault policies. The idea that a “comprehensive and mandatory four-year sexual violence prevention and education program,” paired with an online “Consent Manual,” can teach rapists not to rape is laughable. Rapists do not stop committing rape because they learn that their actions hurt others. Sexual assault at the College can only end when we expel assailants from our campus. At best, the mandatory four-year education will prevent some percentage of students from committing sexual violence, but it will not bring an ultimate end to these acts from taking place.

While a Dartmouth-specific safety smartphone app sounds great in theory, the reality is that smartphone-based sexual assault response apps such as Here for You, Circle of 6, like LiveSafe and Kitestring are not particularly useful as response tools for acquaintance rape. Given that a study by the State University of New York at Albany reported that nearly 90 percent of college rape survivors knew their assailant, these kinds of apps are not likely to be effective. These apps tend to break down into two general categories: apps that keep users safe when they walk home alone or find themselves in unfamiliar situations, like Kitestring and Circle of 6, and apps that help users find resources in the aftermath of a rape, LiveSafe and Here For You. Based on existing apps, one might imagine that a Dartmouth-specific smartphone app would be some combination of these two general types. Perhaps, then, it would have a feature to alert Safety and Security, a list of College resources such as the Sexual Assault Peer Advisors and links to non-College resources such as WISE.

This sounds great, until you consider two things. First, putting existing resources into an app does not truly increase the amount or availability of College resources, and second, smartphone-based apps are, by definition, limited to only those members of a student body with smartphones. The first is an issue of existing resources — why, at this point, is “Moving Dartmouth Forward” not engaging in forward-thinking, pioneering work on sexual assault akin to that which President Hanlon is pushing for in our academic offerings? The second is an issue of accessibility — on that is particularly troubling. Given their price, it’s clear that smartphones are most accessible to those with adequate financial resources. When one considers the fact that individuals from low-income backgrounds report higher rates of sexual violence, a smartphone-exclusive app may exclude those who are most at risk of needing it.

Finally, it is troubling to see that the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” plan requires mandatory expulsion only in “extreme cases” of sexual assault. What exactly constitutes an “extreme case?” Sexual assault is, by definition, a violent act — it is a violation of a person’s body, agency and right to safety. It should not have to be “extreme” for it to be considered a gross violation of the College’s conduct standards. By linking the supposed extremeness of a case to mandatory expulsion, the plan treads disturbingly close to the spirit of former Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) claim that the female body can “shut the whole thing down” to prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.” Sexual violence is, and always will be, traumatic. Attempting to distinguish between various levels of severity disempowers and denigrates the experiences of its survivors. For the College to engage in this sort of discourse is both irresponsible and detestable.

Rather than creating an app and implementing mandatory education, the College should make an explicit commitment to improving its internal adjudication processes relating to sexual assault and gender-based violence, develop a partnership with the Hanover Police Department to give survivors who choose to go to the court a legitimate chance in the criminal justice system and make rape kits and date rape drug testing available at Dick’s House. Rather than mandating expulsion in “extreme” cases, the College should commit to a true zero-tolerance policy with expulsion as the minimum punishment for any party found guilty of sexual assault. Greek houses and other social spaces should be held more accountable for what happens to their guests both at their houses and after they leave if they were served alcohol in that house. Finally, there must be comprehensive plan to support survivors in the emotional, physical and academic travails that are too often the results of experiencing sexual violence.

As we continue to debate “Moving Dartmouth Forward” and its implementation, I urge you to think beyond the hard alcohol ban. Even if you cannot access liquor on campus, you will still be able to drink in Hanover-area establishments that serve mixed drinks. Rape survivors, however, can never return to being exactly who they were before they were raped. The lasting effects of sexual violence are a much more significant problem on this campus than whether or not you can have a rum and coke at your next tails.