“One in four women will be sexually assaulted in college” is a fairly well-known statistic, particularly amongst female college students. While the prevalence of sexual assault permeates universities across the U.S., the inability of administrations to respond is widespread.
American University is particularly dysfunctional in addressing Title IX cases, with the most federal investigations in progress of any university in the nation. Many have been quick to claim that this may simply be an indication of the open and accepting culture fostered at A.U., but a much more sinister reason is at play. A high number of cases, sadly but simply, means that there are a large number of instances of students being sexually assaulted. These five open federal investigations alone demonstrate the school’s failure to sufficiently address sexual assault victims.
Earlier this year, I experienced the tumultuous, exhausting, and dysfunctional mechanisms set in place for survivors as I helped a close friend navigate the system following an incident. In the long hours following something no one should ever be subjected to, I was shocked at the dilapidated and seemingly uncaring programs meant to support victims.
Through the process, I discovered that basic resources, such as rape kits, are widely unavailable in our school’s vicinity. The hospital at Georgetown is unequipped to carry out a rape kit procedure, and so is AU. When we went to the A.U. Student Health Center (S.H.C.) and asked for a rape kit, they said they didn’t have a physician available to administer the test. When my friend arrived at her appointment the next day, S.H.C. employees informed her that they don’t have the kits on campus, nor a S.A.N.E. nurse, who has been specially trained to administer the exam.
AU’s only available medical support consists of S.T.I. testing and counseling services. They cannot actually perform the rape kit examination. Not only is this lack of resources unacceptable, this information was relayed far too late during the process. With sexual assault cases, there is a critical 72-hour window for collecting evidence from the victim, which S.H.C. staff shortened by delaying direction to a facility that could actually perform the necessary tests. To make matters worse, the school did not offer to have someone accompany us to the hospital or to a place that offered the necessary tools.
AU seems far more concerned with the appearance of caring rather than the reality of it. Sure, we have O.A.S.I.S. stickers in every bathroom. But when we tried to call these resources, as dictated to us repeatedly in both AUx classes and in restrooms across campus, the line was disconnected. We called late in the evening, but the truth is, rape isn’t exactly on the school’s preset schedule of call hours. Trying to find resources should be easy, not only to encourage victims to come forward and find the support they deserve, but also to set a precedent that crimes such as sexual assault are dealt with swiftly and effectively and won’t be ignored.
The number of reports of rape and sexual assault made on American’s campus to the Title IX office has risen steadily from 22 cases in the 2012-2013 academic year (and a composite of 36 Title IX reports) to 59 cases of sexual assault and rape reports in the 2015-2016 school year. This statistic may identify a positive trend, as the increase may suggest a growing sense of comfortability amongst students to come forward. Brian E. Clark, a spokesperson for Brown University, demonstrated this sentiment in an email sent to the Washington Post. In 2016, Brown tied with the University of Connecticut for the most reports of sexual assault incidents. In an attempt to explain this high volume of reports, Clark stated, “the fact that 43 incidents were reported indicates that we are building trust among our campus community members in how the university responds to reported incidents of sexual and gender-based violence.” And yet, the criminal offenses on main campus recorded in AU’s annual security report demonstrates a significant reason as to why this may change in the coming years at AU. While in 2014, there were 40 convicted cases of “Forcible Sex Offenses (Rape and Forcible Fondling)”, the number of cases in which victims successfully reported abuse dropped to 15 in 2016.
I remember feeling very young while going to the hospital and to the Student Health Center with my friend. In the S.H.C., they dismissed our statements and sent us away. In the hospital, I felt the judgement of other patients watching four girls sitting together with no apparent injuries in the waiting room for the E.R. The entire process was terrifying, took forever, and very few people were genuinely helpful in getting the resources we needed to deal with the situation.
My friend experienced severe trauma, only to have to go through hours of searching for help immediately afterwards. This inefficient response is indicative of how little the institution prioritizes the need to quickly address survivors in the aftermath of their trauma. How are we supposed to feel safe on a campus where rape victims’ needs are barely addressed by the institution?
The author of this article has requested anonymity due to this being an ongoing case.
Image courtesy American University, Creative Commons