Is Every College America’s Rape Capital?

The truth is, for young

women, America’s

campuses are

dangerous places

-Eliza Gray

When we read this article, published in only May of 2014,  I was astounded at the drastic change in the arena of simply student understanding of sexual assault in the few months that had passed between publication and our study of this article in class.

“America’s Rape Capital” is a town in Missoula, Montana that has historically been subject to an astounding number of sexual assault cases every year – with 80 reported in a three year span. This statistic does not even account for the startling percentage of sexual assaults that go unreported every year. The University of Montana in Missoula was among the first campuses to be investigated in regards to Title IX violations because of mishandling students’ sexual assault cases. If Missoula, Montana is the rape capital of the United States, is every college the sexual assault capital of its locality?

In her article, Eliza Gray argues that it takes extreme measures of violence to move us to action, using the example of her university as a way of understanding this phenomenon. As of the time of publication for the article, her university was running a campaign to combat sexual assault. But why does it take an astounding number of reported sexual assaults to move a college to action? Isn’t even one sexual assault too many?

The occurrence of this phenomenon can also be observed in the medicalization of desire with transgendered individuals. As we read about and saw in the documentary, Toilet Training, it often takes extreme acts of violence against transgendered individuals for the greater public to become aware of the plight of those that don’t fit into the gender binary. This is result of what Foucault describes as a result of a public discourse determined by the dominant group, or the group in power. For transgendered individuals, they are not only a minority in the population but also within the LGBTQI community. The lack of inherent visibility to their has to be met with measures of extreme violence before the general public gains knowledge of the injustices they are facing. It took extremely personal accounts by sexual assault victims strategically being made public, open letters to university administrations, and wide media coverage of high-profile cases for the American public to take the issue of on-campus sexual assault seriously.

The beginning of the serious investigation of certain colleges and universities for Title IX violations began in 2011, as with the University of Montana in Missoula. We are all aware of the official list of educational institutions found to have violated Title IX at this point – and the reason we know about it is the increased media publicity and public discourse of the issue. Born of this increased media coverage coupled with the concern of a large number of citizens has come yet another bill by Congress – the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. The will of their constituents and the increasing general public concern about what appears to be an epidemic on our college campuses. This increase in concern and understanding of the issues faced by college-aged women is encouraging, but there is still a long way to go.

When we read this bill in class, all of us seemed to pick up on ways in which the bill reinforced certain traditional dialogues concerning typically repressed groups – like victims and the LGBTQI community. While the bill is a great step forward in the future of our country’s higher education system, it seems to fail at the precise points where it could have the most effect. The bill completely circumnavigates any definite number or ratio of students to ‘confidential advisors.’ This fact alone undermines the bill’s possibility of effectiveness, but on top of this, it completely fails to provide for any type of LGBTQI-related training for those employees designated to handle sexual assault cases on campuses.

We were all in class for the presentation given by the professionals at the Project SAFE Center, which served to outline some of the shortcomings of having such a small staff. Yet the provisions of the bill fudge the numbers about the true number of individuals on college campuses who will be required to provide victim-centered and trauma-informed counseling to victims of sexual assault.

Additionally, the bill requires many different types of training to foster sensitivity to outside factors within ‘responsible employees.’ Of these provisions are a call for cultural sensitivity to individuals of sexual assault, but none for sexuality? The failure to address the unique needs of LGBTQI communities on campus appears to be a deliberate oversight on the part of the committee who drafted the bill. While it is true that LGBTQI individuals represent a minority of the general population, they are a truly vocal minority. Especially relevant to the house of Congress which drafted the bill is the proverbial ongoing ‘gay marriage debate.’ The fight for equal rights has centered around the issue of same-sex marriage in the past few years, so that is to say that it is not a lack of visibility of lack of necessity that the LGBTQI community was overlooked in this bill, but unfortunately and most likely something far more insidious.

How do you think the bill should be revised specifically? Do you think this bill to address campus sexual assault will pass in the House as it did in the Senate? Why do you think it takes extreme statistics or acts of violence to move our society to address significant problems within it? Are there other concepts and situations that we covered in class that could be applied to this sentiment?


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