An Education in Raping: Are College Campuses Protecting Rapists?

Posted on October 15th, 2010 by Katherine Franke

Jane Kim, is a J.D. candidate in her third year at Columbia Law School and an aspiring civil and human rights advocate, activist, and scholar.  Here are her thoughts on sexual violence in the university setting:

It may be common knowledge that 25 percent of college women survive rape or attempted assault, but imagining what this statistic means or why it is so high is far from common.  This 2000 Department of Justice (DOJ) statistic means that approximately 700 women at Columbia College, 800 women at Harvard College, 3,000 at Ohio State, 4,600 at the University of Texas at Austin – essentially the entire first-year class of women college students – have survived rape or attempted assault.  A 2007 DOJ study found that among college rape survivors, only 12 percent – only 12 percent! – report their rapes to law enforcement.  The study listed the following barriers to reporting rape:  not wanting others to know about the rape, fear of retaliation, perception of insufficient evidence, uncertainty about whether a crime was committed or harm intended, and uncertainty about whether the incident was “serious enough.”  In 2003, the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, a student group at Harvard College, suggested that universities exacerbate these barriers to reporting through university disbelief and skepticism towards rape victims – an attitude that deters victims from coming forward.  Indeed, a 2002 DOJ report on campus sexual assault found that college sexual assault policies often “condone victim-blaming.”

Why is rape on college campuses so pervasive, why is the rate of reporting so low, and why do we rarely hear about the prosecution of college rapists?  Recent events remind us that college rapists rarely face consequences for their actions; impunity for college rape is the norm.

Six weeks ago, a female Michigan State student reported that she was raped and sexually assaulted by two male students.  After stating “no,” both verbally and physically, to her attackers’ advances, and after striking one attacker, the victim stated that “the suspects took turns sexually assaulting her in various sexual positions and orifices.”  The victim explained that she did not feel she could leave the room because of the posture, proximity, athletic build, and number of her attackers.  One of the alleged perpetrators confirmed the victim’s story and stated that “he understood ‘the girl’ to be reluctant,” he “understood that she did not feel that she could leave,” and “she did not want to continue having sex with either of them.”  (The redacted police report is available here.)

Stuart Dunnings, III Prosecuting Attorney

Despite the victim’s testimony, a rape kit, physical evidence collected at the crime scene, and statements made by one of the alleged perpetrators, Ingham County Prosecutor, Stuart Dunnings III, declined to prosecute, finding that the requisite “force and/or coercion” was absent in this case.

Impunity for college rape, as evidenced by the latest Michigan State Rape, is not an anomaly.  The Michigan State Rape rings reminders of Christy Brzonkala, a former student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) and the 2000 Supreme Court petitioner in United States v. Morrison, who faced both an unsupportive local prosecutor and a dismissive university disciplinary committee.  In 1995, the Virginia Tech Judicial Committee found insufficient evidence to punish James Crawford, one of Christy Brzonkala’s alleged rapists, and eventually found Antonio Morrison, Christy’s second rapist, merely guilty of “using abusive language” – an offense that received no consequence.  Impunity for rape on college campuses is rampant.  (See Laura Dunn’s experiences at the University of Wisconsin, Margaux J’s experiences at Indiana University, Megan Wright’s experiences at Dominican College, Ariel Brown’s experiences at Bowdoin College, and Harvard College’s 2003 sexual assault policy, which required “independent corroborating evidence” – a near-impossible standard of proof – to report sexual assault crimes (the policy has since been revised)).

Perhaps the answer to our initial questions regarding the high incidence of rape and sexual assault on college campuses and the low rate of reporting is a product of the double standards that universities and local prosecutors establish by letting in-college rapists “off the hook” for crimes that they would perhaps involve imprisonment out-of-college.  One factor driving the impunity that colleges afford their student rapists is likely public reputation and reporting, as colleges are federally mandated to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses under The Clery Act.  No college wants to win the U.S. News ranking as the most raped campus.

The Center for Public Integrity attributes leniency for in-college rapists to the educational – rather than punitive – objectives of disciplinary sanctions, as college administrators (shockingly) see rape disciplinary proceedings as “teachable moments” for rapists.  According to Pamela Freeman, Associate Dean of Students at Indiana University, disciplinary boards are soft on in-college rapists because “they’re not all predators.”  In other words, college disciplinary boards refuse to treat rapists as rapists because they are students.  College rapists are protected by the privilege of higher education.

College disciplinary proceedings for rape and sexual assault are certainly teaching moments.  Little to no consequence for student rapists teaches students how to rape, that rape is tolerable, and that rape victims are expendable and marginal.  Earlier in this post, DOJ-identified barriers to reporting rape were listed; impunity for rape thus effectively silences rape victims, teaching them that a crime was not committed and that their injury was, at best not “serious enough” and at worst imaginary.

Advocates against pornography argue that pornography fuels violence against women by teaching people – particularly young men – that sex is violence and that exploitation, domination, and objectification in sex are normal.  Even those who disagree are still likely to recognize that college is where young people learn about sex.  If we don’t police rape in college, does college become a training ground for rapists?, an education in raping?

In the 1980s and 1990s, approximately one-third of college men reported that they would rape a woman if they knew they would not get caught.  Well, if the data shows that college rapists are not being “caught” and are protected by the privilege of education, should we be so surprised at the silent prevalence of rape on our college campuses?


  1. It gets evem more depressing– A YOUTUBE footage showing Yale fraternity pledging rape is laughing matter– it shows the frats chanting:”NO MEANS YES, YES MEANS ANALS” FACKING SLUTS” – hard to believe but this actually happened!

  2. […] more here:  Gender & Sexuality Law Blog » Blog Archive » An Education in … By admin | category: VIRGINIA POLYTECHNIC Institute | tags: former-student, michigan, […]

  3. US: An Education in Raping: Are College Campuses Protecting Rapists?

  4. Thank you for shedding such thoughtful light on an invisible injustice that affects college students — among so many others — everywhere.

  5. […] Gender & Sexuality Law Blog, An Education in Raping: Are College Campuses Protecting Rapists? […]

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