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Sexual Assault: Defining the Problem

Alexanda Arnold ‘10’s pieces from the last two days should cause readers to reconsider their views regarding sexual assault on campus, what some people refer to as “the rape culture.” Her salient observation, borne out by both research and personal experience, is echoed in a recent Weekly Standard piece by Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield: “The predatory males are a small minority among men…”

The paradigm to which I previously subscribed — that so many of these incidents are ill-advised, drunken couplings gone wrong, with one party angrily regretting the event at a later time — has to be re-thought. In doing so, certain other events make more sense:

Columbia Assault white board.jpg● At Columbia, the names of four men were repeatedly scrawled on sites all over campus under the heading “sexual assault violators on campus” and “rapists on campus.” Flyers to the same effect were placed in various areas. Perhaps such an action is less vigilante justice than an attempt to warn students away from repeat offenders.


● The various Bystander Initiatives at different colleges, including at Dartmouth, are not so much an effort to keep students safe in putatively unsafe environments, as they are a program to keep vulnerable students away from undergraduate men who have earned a reputation for assault. Friends don’t let friends go home with the wrong person, i.e. someone who is on one of the “rape lists” kept by all sororities.

● Amanda Childress’ oft-derided remark — “Why could we not expel a student based on an allegation?” — makes more sense if situated in the context of an administrator who receives repeated, credible complaints about the reprehensible behavior of the same students. In the private sector, where we are not burdened (or at least where we have chosen not to be burdened) by lumbering bureaucratic procedures, were I to receive a single credible complaint about an employee regarding, say, verbal workplace harassment, I would seek to amicably resolve the situation between the parties; if a second well founded complaint came across my desk, the harassing employee would be fired in short order.

● Perhaps a NH County Attorney would be more likely to bring a weak case against a student if that student had a past record of complaints regarding other assaults. Better to lose in court and send a message to the community than allow a predator to continue a deeply harmful pattern of behavior.

All that said, the College’s efforts to prevent sexual assault need to be re-thought. The problem is not the existence of a culture; rather, a small number of individuals need to be identified and pressured to behave respectfully. For example, students who feel that they have been abused in any way are duty bound to file a complaint. Even if they decline to go forward with a prosecution, they should do other students the courtesy of letting the administration know that they feel that they have been assaulted. The administration, in its turn, should keep track of the students at whom accusations have been leveled. Even if charges are not brought, a stern, face-to-face warning by a Dean could well serve to rein in the predators who have hurt so many people.

Any other suggestions?

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