Wheel Debates: In Favor of Harsher Punishments for Sexual Assaults at Emory

If you were fortunate enough to attend Tuesday’s Red Zone rally to increase awareness of sexual assault on our campus, you know that it is an issue that has encouraged faculty, staff and students to speak out. Unfortunately, far too many of us remain silent. The alarming statistics from a study on sexual violence against women on college campuses by clinical psychologists at the University of Mississippi should shatter our complacency: nine out of 10 survivors know their assailant, one-third of the assailants are a “close friend” of the victim and the perpetrator is the victim’s boyfriend 41 percent of the time. The National Crime and Victimization Survey concludes that less than three percent of these assailants ever serve a day in jail. One reason for this is an emphasis on stranger attacks as opposed to sexual assault by acquaintances. Although the majority of assaults on college campuses are by acquaintances, misconceptions about the most likely perpetrators have discouraged district attorneys from prosecuting acquaintance rape cases. Emory University and other colleges must step up if victims of sexual assault are to receive any justice.

While Emory has done a fantastic job framing sexual misconduct as an issue of social justice and focusing on cultivating student leaders to raise awareness, it has failed to enact sanctions that are capable of deterring would-be perpetrators. In the context of the existing sexual misconduct policy, there are no written sanctions listed for perpetrators. In fact, the sexual misconduct policy is vague with regards to the punitive measures that would be taken. It only states that there would be interim restrictions placed on a perpetrator while a sexual misconduct case is being investigated. However, it is tough to assume that the perpetrator would necessarily face any additional restrictions at the end of the case because the language in the policy is silent on this issue.

Justice demands that we strengthen the sanctions for individuals who are found in violation of the sexual misconduct policy. We must not only enhance the penalties that these cases include to suspension and expulsion, but we must be willing to publicly demonstrate our commitment to treat sexual assault like the crime that it is. Our desire for social justice can only be fulfilled if it is supported by a more aggressive and well-publicized set of sanctions.

Stronger sanctions will allow Emory to successfully pursue social justice. Other universities have come under fire for creating hostile climates for sexual assault victims with their inaction. Multiple lawsuits have been filed against universities for violating Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits discrimination based on sex in any educational program. To identify an environment where 25 percent of the women have been victims of rape or attempted rape as a “hostile climate” is quite generous. We have clearly created a culture of endemic violence that is legitimized throughout institutional neglect. Emory should not wait for a Title IX lawsuit before it decides to take action to protect students on our campus. We have the opportunity to create a catalyst for a broader communal response. Ultimately, if the possibility of suspension or expulsion did nothing else but create broader awareness of the University’s support for victims of sexual assault, it would facilitate the creation a culture that systemically challenges sexual violence. The more people become aware of the way the broader community looks down upon this type of violence on an individual level, the less likely a random individual would be to commit such violent acts in the first place.

Some may argue that making sanctions an explicit possibility in the process may discourage people from coming out and reporting sexual assault. Others may argue that sanctions are a bad idea because all cases are not necessarily the same. However, I believe that having sanctions against any and all instances of sexual misconduct can help diminish the assumption that there is little likelihood of punitive measures.

If the University doesn’t make such a policy explicit, individuals might assume nothing will happen to them. Creating a more stringent policy does more than just add another line to the university’s sexual misconduct policy. It will raise awareness of the intolerable nature of sexual assault and start to reduce the number of attacks on our campus. Ultimately and most importantly, we can create an environment that makes it more likely for victims to come forward and take action against those who have sexually assaulted them, as well as put in place a strong deterrent against such crimes being committed in the first place.

For the opposing opinion, chick here

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