Correction appended at 5:25 p.m.
A wave of federal sexual harassment complaints filed by college students nationwide this year has highlighted the inadequacy of university-level resources for dealing with sexual violence. Now a recent report by Yale University has revealed that the government’s responses to the problem may fall short as well.
Last Wednesday, Yale’s Office of the Provost issued its semi-annual report logging sexual misconduct complaints received by the University between January 1, 2013 and June 30, 2013. The publication was the fourth of those mandated by the resolution agreement to the US Department of Education’s 2011 Title IX investigation into discrimination and sexual violence at Yale.
Bloggers and activists have issued stark criticism of the document, condemning its use of the term “nonconsensual sex” in place of “rape” and its failure to impose severe enough sanctions. “In Sept I’m returning to a campus where, just like when I was a freshman, rape is addressed with ‘written reprimands,’” tweeted Alexandra Brodsky, the organizer of a student-led movement to educate students on their Title IX rights and one of the Yale students who filed the complaint sparking the investigation. Andrea Pino, a blogger for the Huffington Post and UNC Chapel Hill senior who helped file a Title IX and Clery Act complaint against her school earlier this year, replied, “@azbrodsky my Campus has been devotedly doing the same for over 200 years.”
Yale’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education website provides information on three different ways to file a sexual misconduct complaint: through the Yale Police Department, the University-wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct (created as a result of the federal investigation) or Title IX Coordinators. According to last week’s report, the school’s Title IX Coordinators and University-wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct handled thirty-nine formal and informal cases, some concerning nonconsensual sex, from January through June.
The most common punishments for perpetrators of “nonconsensual sex” were probation, counseling, “written reprimands” and orders not to contact the complainant. A statement released Friday by the university added that all complaints of sexual assault are reported to the Yale Police Department, but that students can choose whether to pursue a criminal investigation. The Yale Police Department said it handled 22 sex-related cases in the period covered by the report, but none of them involved “nonconsensual sex” and only four ended in arrest.
Yale’s report comes on the heels of a busy season for federal Title IX investigators. Since January, discrimination complaints have been filed by students at the University of North Carolina, Dartmouth College, Occidental College, Swarthmore College, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Southern California. Last week, Christian institution Cedarville University was revealed to be under review by the DOE for sexual harassment policy. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, twenty-three of the ninety-one Title IX Investigations currently being pursued by the Education Department involve sexual misconduct.
The details of this year’s complaints have inspired empathy for victims who have been ignored or mistreated after reporting sexual misconduct to their colleges. A student at the University of Montana was told “not to expect much” when she reported being harassed. Girls at UNC were blamed and reprimanded for being assaulted, and an Amherst student withdrew from school after being forced into a psychiatric ward by concerned administrators.
Disappointed by their universities’ responses, students and rape survivors across the country have woven a network of advocacy to ensure the national acknowledgement of their problem. In July, a group called Know Your IX rallied in front of the Department of Education and presented Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter with 115,471 signatures on a proposal calling for better enforcement of federal laws protecting students from sexual assault. Protests have been held from Dartmouth to UNC, and student-led groups like USC’s Student Coalition Against Rape have been formed to address issues specific to certain schools. The current efforts are focused on federal-level change, which reflects students’ deepening distrust of their institutions.
At the conclusion of the recent federal investigation of Yale, the university agreed to produce periodic reports and to “continue to improve and publicize university resources and programming aimed at responding to and preventing sexual harassment and violence.” In the same position earlier this year, the University of Montana agreed to broaden the standard for what constitutes sexual harassment to encourage reporting.
But neither university has cracked down on offenders as severely as student activists would like, which further complicates the discussion of methods for ridding universities of sexual misconduct. The necessary step in fighting harassment on campuses may be a policy change, an enforcement change or even a cultural change, but one thing is for certain: Any lasting improvement will need the full support of students, administrators, and the federal government.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Yale was required to pay a fine as a result of the Title IX Investigation. In fact, that fine was not related to a Title IX investigation, but to issues dating back a decade relating to the Clery Act. That original fine was reduced. After a recent Title IX investigation, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights closed its investigation without any finding of non-compliance by Yale.