The New York Times recently published a hard hitting story delving into one woman’s accusations of sexual assault against a student-athlete at a major university.
The story, not without controversy, revealed a terrifying culture of complicity that enabled sexual assault to run rampant, under-reported, and undeterred at a major university.
In response to this and several other highly publicized instances of sexual assault on our nation’s college campuses, the White House has created a Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault. The task force has put together several action steps to help schools live up to their obligations to protect students from sexual violence.
Among the Task Force’s initial recommendations for our nation’s universities:
- a comprehensive sexual misconduct policy.
- trauma-informed training for school officials.
- better school disciplinary systems.
- partnerships with the community.
That is a good start, and should be considered by all institutions, both public and private, if we are to seriously address the problem of sexual abuse. To study the problem, a report compiled by the Office of the Vice President and the White House Council on Women and Girls shares a glimpse of how dire the situation really is for our nation’s colleges. The report reveals that nearly 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted while in college. Even more frightening, among the men who admitted to committing a rape, or attempting a rape, statistics reveal that the majority of such offenders are serial offenders; having committed more than six rapes.
The report also ventures into areas unexplored by conventional dialogue on sex abuse. It reveals statistics which suggest that the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of sexual aggression is not isolated; it spills over into every single facet of a victim’s life. For example, the White House task force cites several studies that estimate the economic impact on a victim’s life, from a single instance of rape, to be anywhere from $87,000 to $240,776.00.
When viewed in context with the rest of the scandals that have shocked the country and garnered national media attention– Penn State, Florida State, and sex abuse affecting the Catholic Church– a pattern emerges, and the unifying theme is clear: repeated institutional failure to respond and prevent instances of sexual aggression/abuse.
The apparent culture of complicity at the institutional level is alarming. Too often, stakeholders want to “sweep it under the rug.” Fearing the economic impact that exposure may have on an institution, those in decision-making positions are willing to divert more money and energy to hiding and covering up the problem than they are in addressing the problem, despite the devastating impact that sexual aggression has on its victims. An institution may incur millions in legal fees before accepting responsibility for these problems, which have been ignored too often, and for far too long.
The President is quoted on the government’s new sexual violence website: “Perhaps most important, we need to keep saying to anyone out there who has ever been assaulted: you are not alone. We have your back. I’ve got your back.”
There are victims who share their stories, but there are far more victims who do not. There are long lasting physical, emotional, and psychological injuries that victims endure privately. By filing a civil lawsuit, victims who finally come forward may surprise even themselves, showing remarkable resiliency by confronting the monsters who abused them and the institutions that allowed the abuse to occur.
After the recent media cycle, one can only hope that our nation is coming to an important realization about the widespread institutional failure to prevent and report sexual abuse. The government will continue to “study” the problem; and institutions will continue to deny their complicity in the problem. But victims should not be discouraged– children, men, and women should not suffer privately; seek mental health counseling. America is waking up. Repeated failures at an institutional level are being uncovered – – the abusers are being held accountable.
Slade H. McLaughlin (Google+)