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Alyssa Ratledge '11: Sex crimes, complacency and complicity

"No means yes! Yes means anal!"

Not exactly the sort of sentiment you'd expect from our nation's top college students, is it? But on Wed., Oct. 13, 2010 — yes, that's this year, a full decade into the 21st century — it was the mantra of Yale's Delta Kappa Epsilon. The fraternity's entire pledge class marched through campus chanting this and other lovely slogans with great relish. You can watch the video on YouTube; I don't advise it, but then again, I only made it through the first minute.

There has been an outcry in feminist circles, including from Yale's Women's Center, which deemed it "hate speech" and called for serious repercussions on the frat from the university. So far, the Yale administration's response has been tepid — they of course decry the frat's words and reaffirm that no does in fact mean no, but haven't made any move to reprimand the students or the frat beyond ceasing pledge activities.

But don't worry, women: One administrator reassures us that she "wouldn't say the question of disciplinary action has disappeared from the conversation." Isn't that a relief? It's possible that some members of a group vocally advocating a felony crime against fellow students might get disciplinary action! They might be put on probation! Doesn't that reassure you about your safety on campus?

At Brown and other Ivy League schools, there seems to be a sense of relieved pride that such an event would never happen here. We are far too progressive, too modern; we believe in egalitarian gender roles and sex-positivism; we understand laws regarding sex offenses and consent. But is that true? This month at Columbia, a male a cappella group posted ads around campus featuring member pictures above the words "Rape me." Apparently they did not realize until being told that such a catchphrase wasn't totally hilarious. Columbia's response to student complaints: none.

Just a few years ago here at Brown, one campus fraternity printed Spring Weekend T-shirts reading, "It's better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission." This slogan isn't specific. It could, technically, be referring to any aspect of Spring Weekend debauchery. But the sexual implication is obvious, and would have been, regardless of how many times I was grabbed, accosted or propositioned that weekend by shirt-wearers on Wriston.

Certainly this is nowhere near the caliber of the Yale incident, but it reflects the same attitude toward women and consent, among both perpetrators and administrators. Two friends of mine complained to a dean about the shirts prior to Spring Weekend; nothing happened. No one was particularly surprised. Sexual assault is rarely taken seriously on college campuses, and unfortunately, neither is its lionization.

Universities' halfhearted responses to incidents like these are perhaps even more frightening for campus women than the incidents' existence in the first place. Years of institutionalized sexism do not disappear quickly, especially on Ivy League campuses with a faction of men who feel entitled to everything, including sex, because of their daddies or trust funds or varsity letters. Couple this with the clear disincentive for universities to investigate and punish perpetrators of sex offenses — every incident must be tallied and publicly reported under the Clery Act — and victims, whether male or female, receive a whole lot of nothing from the people who are supposed to help them.

There are horror stories from across the country of college students, both men and women, who go to school administrators after being raped and are told to keep quiet, not to inform the police, just to have everything be kept nice and neat and internal. Victims are not offered rape kits or told about their full range of administrative and legal options, much less offered the support they need post-assault.

Brown and other top schools, including Yale, have made strides to improve this in recent years, primarily through increasing psychological support services for victims. But the mystery surrounding "disciplinary hearings" remains, and according to the Justice Department, the vast majority of accused campus rapists do not face any serious sanctions, and often no punishment at all. Yes, even at Brown.

Conversely, there's the case of William McCormick III, who is currently suing the University because he was removed from campus after being accused of rape. Whether or not the rape allegations have merit, the administration did seem to act in an uncharacteristic way due to the accuser's father's status as a fundraiser, casting even more doubt upon the channels in place to deal with sex offenses — and universities' ambiguous stance on such incidents at all.  

Rape is a crime. This is not a question and it is not up for debate. Whether they are furtive or overt, people mocking this in a university campus setting need to face more than superficial chastising. Women cannot feel safe, and therefore cannot be full participants in the campus community, when others gleefully chant about committing violent crimes against them — and when college administrations make it clear they don't care.


Opinions Editor Alyssa Ratledge '11 is a public policy concentrator from Mesa, Ariz.


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