My first direct experience with rape was in college in the late 70’s when my roommate was assaulted by a fellow student. I will never forget the first night of fear, trauma, shame, embarrassment, and intense emotion she experienced. And I will never forget the many other nights, over the next several years, my friend suffered through night terrors and intense fear.
Fast forward many years. As a mom of a then high school senior, we visited several universities in Michigan to determine where our son might apply and attend. Of course, I was the parent in the tour sessions that always asked the question about student safety and specifically safety around sexual violence. Each time I was never given what I felt was a sincere or honest answer. I was told how the colleges had programs to walk students home from the library at night, how there were blue light phones all around campus that a student could use to call for assistance, and mostly, how very little sexual assaults occur on campus. One tour guide stated boldly that “things like that don’t happen around here.”
Recently the University of Michigan released a “first report of its kind,” on the number of sexual assault incidents reported on campus in a 12-month period. This report indicates that 129 alleged incidents of sexual misconduct were reported to the university. And out of these 129 incidents, one student was expelled, with sanctions in four cases still pending. The incidents reported do not focus solely on rape, which is actually significantly underreported to authorities, they also include sexual harassment and stalking cases,
I think it is important to note that when we look at the statistics of rape around the country (not limited to college campuses alone), it is estimated that only 3 rapists out of every 100 will ever see one day in prison. Here at home, we frequently read about the decades old untested rape kits in Detroit and about former U of M football player Brendan Gibbons who after a 4-year “investigation” by the university was found guilty of sexual assault and expelled following his graduation. So it is no surprise to us that most student offenders are not held accountable.
The current push to hold universities accountable for their actions or inaction around student safety is to be commended. But we must urge universities to remain vigilant. Purely reporting out on incident rates is a good start, but not enough. Until every student is educated about primary prevention versus “how not to be raped.” Until every incident of violence is taken seriously and fully investigated. And until universities address the rape culture that exists, our work is not done.