Kuster ’78 shares sexual assault story before Congress

by Erin Lee | 6/30/16 6:42pm

When Rep. Ann McLane Kuster '78, D-N.H., was sexually assaulted as a freshman at the College, she kept silent about the assault for more than 40 years. Last week, Kuster took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to speak out about the assault at Dartmouth for the first time, in addition to two others she experienced while working as a congressional aide.

In her speech, Kuster recounted a night as an 18-year-old student attending a dance at a fraternity with friends.

"We danced. We listened to music. We enjoyed the evening, and we enjoyed the party, until one young man assaulted me in a crude and insulting way, and I ran, alone into the cold dark night,” she said in her floor speech.

Kuster said in an interview that she was inspired to share her story after reading the statement written by “Emily Doe,” the woman who was sexually assaulted by former Stanford University student Brock Turner last year. Kuster and 17 other members of the House read Doe’s 7,200-word open letter on the House floor earlier this month after news broke that Turner, who was found guilty of three felonies, would only serve six months in a county jail.

“She made such an eloquent statement about not only the attack, but also the aftermath of her attack, her experience in the judicial process,” Kuster said. “I was really inspired by her courage.”

She added that during her efforts over the past year to investigate New Hampshire’s heroin epidemic, she has visited treatment and recovery facilities throughout the state. During one conversation with people in recovery, several discussed sexual assault and domestic violence, and Kuster was impressed by their candor and eloquence.

“I realized that there are a lot of people my age who have had this experience,” she said. “Many of us didn’t speak of it. I never told my family, my children or my husband, and I realized that our silence has contributed to the lack of resolve in our society to end sexual assault, violence against women, domestic violence. It felt like the right time to speak up and find my voice.”

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an email that the College was “deeply distressed” to learn of Kuster’s experiences and reached out to her to offer support.

“It is revelations like [Kuster’s] that demonstrate why we must continue to expand our efforts in prevention, response and accountability,” she said.

The College is currently being investigated for two separate Title IX complaints, filed on May 31, 2013 and August 21, 2015 respectively.

According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, Dartmouth saw 42 reports of rape on campus in 2014.

Of the thousands of schools surveyed, Dartmouth had the second highest number of reported rapes in 2014. Brown University and the University of Connecticut each had 43. Dartmouth has a substantially smaller student population than either Brown or UConn does.

Melinda Pierce ’06 said she was not surprised by the number of reported rapes because of the College’s male-dominated social scene.

“I don’t think that the culture of Dartmouth is well situated to prevent sexual assault,” she said. “There is a sort of coded behavior of protection amongst those male-dominated social groups where they aren’t going to necessarily step up when they should to prevent something from happening.”

When she was an undergraduate, Pierce wrote an opinion piece in The Dartmouth addressing the issue of sexual assault at the College. She said she received words of support and solidarity from other women on campus after the piece was published, but the administration did not respond.

Pierce noted that during her time at the College, the Student Life Initiative, which launched in 2000,was meant to provide non-fraternity social options but failed, partly due to resistance from fraternities themselves.

“I think that Dartmouth in many ways is going around in circles,” she said. “We can only have a dialogue for so long.”

Lawrence cited the Association of American Universities’ sexual assault survey released last fall, which showed Dartmouth students reported a higher rate of knowledge about sexual misconduct procedures and available resources than AAU aggregate rates. Fifty-six percent of Dartmouth respondents reported having been victims of sexual harassment, compared to the AAU aggregate rate of 48 percent.

“At Dartmouth, we want to see the number of reported incidents go up and the prevalence of incidents go down,” she said. “Although the growing climate of reporting is encouraging, even one sexual assault is too many.”

Kuster noted that there are now more resources at Dartmouth than there were when she was a student, including Title IX coordinator Heather Lindkvist and on-campus WISE advocate Delaney Anderson.

As part of the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” initiative, the College is in the process of implementing several programs to address sexual assault, including a comprehensive sexual assault education program and an online consent manual.

Abhilasha Gokulan ’18, a member of the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault, said the committee is currently working on implementing its recommendations released at the end of 2015. The committee is talking to residential housing staff and Greek organizations to introduce responder workshops for leaders in the residential and Greek systems, Gokulan said. The SPCSA is also working out logistics for training Greek leaders in how to react appropriately to situations of sexual assault.

Gokulan said she views the introduction of a sexual violence education program during prerecruitment for rush this past year as progress. The program, the Dartmouth Bystanders Initiative, was implemented in 2014 and is required for all students rushing GLOS societies.

Gokulan noted that sexual assault statistics can sometimes be misleading, as definitions and metrics vary between different surveys. However, she said the numbers are still indicative of the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses.

“Even if that number was one, that still shouldn’t be the case,” she said. “That number should be zero.”

Kuster said she hopes students will be able to find their voice on these issues in their undergraduate years but added that sexual assault also needs to be tackled in a much broader societal context as well.

“We’re all Emily Doe,” she said. “We all need to speak up because these stories are so common, and they’re difficult to talk about, but it won’t stop until there’s an advocacy movement to make these changes in our society.”