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Editorial: Challenge sexual violence

We applaud the United States Department of Education’s decision this summer to launch an investigation of the University’s sexual assault policies, though without powerful new legislation from Congress we remain deeply skeptical that the department’s recommendations will do much more than provide cover for institutions like Brown to continue to abrogate its responsibilities for keeping its students safe. A national campaign spearheaded by victims and their advocates has raised this issue to the highest levels of media and government, but we cannot treat this moment like a victory when it’s just another benchmark in a long fight against the social, political and economic forces that doubt and justify rape.

This summer, a Providence College student, who was passing a night at Louie’s Tavern, reported being drugged, carried off against her will and assaulted multiple times by Brown students. These students later passed around photos and videos of the alleged attack as well as text messages that included discussion like “LML YO LIKE CLASSIC [name] THO. NO INVITE JUST WALKS IN AND STARTS RAPING HER,” The Herald previously reported. Though the Brown students were told to leave campus and removed from the football team roster after the victim filed a complaint with the Providence Police, they will likely be free to return for this coming academic year since a grand jury decided not to indict them last week. The law must protect the rights of the accused, but it is hard to understand this as anything other than another miscarriage of justice — one in which the University is culpable due to its role in the creation and maintenance of the structures that may have taught its students to allegedly drug and rape a peer.

When this Providence College student was allegedly raped, she became part of the growing network of survivors — one in five women on college campuses — who are working to educate the world on the prevalence of sexual assault. But even today, only 5 percent of sexual assaults on college campuses are reported to the authorities, and only some of those reports will result in real justice for the victim. These numbers affirm that superficial reforms will fail to reduce sexual violence. If we have a society that condones rape and makes excuses for sexual attackers, victims will only expect scorn and isolation from their communities for reporting an attack. We have seen these types of negative responses to victim’s stories on message boards, including The Herald’s comments section, repeatedly over the last couple years. When students are allowed to return to campus following a mere one year suspension after the University finds them guilty of choking and assaulting another student, victims reconsider speaking out — the very act of seeking justice being like a continuation of the attack itself, robbing victims of power over their own experiences. And when our University announces it received a handful of reports of sexual assault without clarifying that those numbers grossly underestimate the extent of the problem, it raises the question of whether the administration would be content with zero assaults or zero reports of assault.

One need not doubt President Christina Paxson’s personal integrity to doubt whether the University will ever adopt the kinds of rigorous reforms that would make even the extent of the problem clear. The only real hope for change lies in the victims and advocates on college campuses around the country being willing to challenge the prevalence of sexual violence and the institutions that support it. We must expose those who would prefer collaboration and appeasement to confrontation and action. We must not be quiet.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board, led by Adam Toobin ’15. Send comments to


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