NPR—Failed Justice Leaves Rape Victim Nowhere To Turn

Posted by Kendall Harmon

(Warning--the content may not be suitable for some blog readers--KSH).

On a morning in April 2006, Eva was in her kitchen baking cookies. She was going to send them to Margaux, who was finishing her freshman year. Then the phone rang.

Eva remembers the call: "I had never heard such a desperate, just a truly desperate sound in her voice. She was just sobbing hysterically. And she kept saying 'Mom, Mom, Mom. Mom, Mom,' over and over. And finally I said, 'Margaux, please, tell me what's wrong. What's wrong?' And she said, she said: 'I've been raped.' "

Margaux says, "I just remember, I was laying in my bed in my dorm. I had been out of control all week and crying and just laying in bed crying. But it was like a wailing, loud cry. The girl next door would come by my room and be like, 'Are you OK?' I'm not a big crier, so when I do cry, my parents know something's really wrong."

Margaux's story is fairly typical for the many women who are sexually assaulted on college campuses. And what's also common is the failure of even the best-intentioned colleges and universities to investigate a criminal matter like rape — and then punish it.

I caught this on the morning run. I would rather not think about it also, but it is an issue that has to be faced. I highly recommend the audio (not far under 8 minutes) as it is far more powerful (and detailed) than the written piece. Read or listen to it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchEducationLaw & Legal IssuesMenSexualityViolenceWomenYoung Adults

Posted February 27, 2010 at 1:32 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. An Anxious Anglican wrote:

Kendall:  As someone who has been involved in the criminal justice system as a prosecutor and a judge, and is also the parent of two daughters, I have to say that the one thing that young women can do to protect themselves from these sort of situations is to refrain from drinking to excess and always sleep behind locked doors.  I am in no way “blaming the victim,” but in many of these cases the victim is the person with the last clear chance to avoid putting herself at risk of sexual assault; drinking to incapacitation creates a significant danger of victimization, and young women have to be told that unpleasant fact by parents and school administrators.  Our hypersexualized society has created a very dangerous situation in which many young men objectify the women with whom they interact and do not respect them as human beings, yet have historically unprecedented access to women in vulnerable settings like coed dormitories.  We cannot depend upon the justice system to right all of these wrongs because the defendant is given the procedural advantage (as should be the case in our system), the victim seldom has a clear recollection of what happened, and jurors are generally instructed to resolve doubts in favor of the defendant.  The best response to injustice like that experienced by Margaux is prevention.

February 27, 6:26 pm | [comment link]
2. Kendall Harmon wrote:

Thanks for the comment #1.

“Most of the time, alcohol is involved.”  One of the things that made me saddest listening to this piece was when this dimension of the story came out.

February 27, 7:06 pm | [comment link]
3. Jon wrote:

I read to the end of the piece (dated Thurs Feb 25) it it says “Friday, the story continues: Margaux goes before a campus judicial hearing and is forced to make an unexpected decision about her future.”

But there was no link to the Friday piece.  And it is now Saturday evening as I post this.  How do I read the rest of the story?  Can anyone advise?

February 27, 8:48 pm | [comment link]
4. Kendall Harmon wrote:


February 27, 9:02 pm | [comment link]
5. Jon wrote:

#1… thanks also for your post and the courage to say it.

Unfortunately, the only definite facts that we can be certain about is that the girl came home intoxicated, she gave a boy down the hall the keys to her room, they later had sex, and the next day she was really upset about it (though she did not contact the police that day to say she had been raped).  Those facts, in and of themselves, do not constitute a crime—we’d be living in a pretty scary world if they did.  It’s possible, even likely, that additional facts are true—but unfortunately for her they are all accusations by her without any evidence and contradicted by him.

The risk of rape has been a tragic fact for all of recorded history.  Naturally if a crime can be proven I’ll be the first to throw the book at a guy.  But the nature of sexuality is that the act is typically PRIVATE—and therefore there is often no observers, no public evidence.

Here is an analogy that may help.  Suppose I am a father and I am hanging out with my son in the park.  While he plays I bring my laptop and I do some work.  After a few minutes I leave the laptop on the park bench and go play with my son on the swings 50 yards away.  Now, I have a perfect right to do that.  And the thief who takes my laptop after I have been playing for 10 minutes is very wrong to do so, and is committing a crime.  And yes, the police should try to find him and the laptop, and if they can he should be punished.  But also, there’s a real sense in which anyone should be able to say to me, “Dammit, what were you THINKING?”

By leaving my laptop on a bench 50 yards away I was putting myself (or my property) in serious danger.  Likewise, when a girl gets totally wasted at a college party, she is putting herself in serious danger.

The real solution to date rape is women becoming acquainted with the fact of Original Sin (just because guys seem “nice” doesn’t mean they are not potential assailants) and being vigilant not to put themselves in situations where they could be at risk.

PS.  The thing that surprised me about the story (so far as I was able to read it) was the implicit belief by everyone in it, including NPR, that school grievance committees should be places that rightly assess guilt or innocence when criminal charges are made.  That seems absolutely something they are NOT trained to do.  Their area of expertise should be teaching physics and Shakespeare, not investigating whether their students have committed crimes.  If students are convicted by the state of crimes against other students, that’s a different matter of course.

February 27, 9:26 pm | [comment link]
6. teatime wrote:

When my son started at Texas Tech, the university put great emphasis on completion of a program required of ALL freshmen (and, I believe, transfer students). It’s called AlcoholEdu and, at freshmen orientation, university officials discussed and explained it to us, emphasizing that they take alcohol issues seriously. The program comes in two parts—one for each semester of the first year. Students are not allowed to register for classes until it’s completed each semester. And we parents were encouraged to use the program to discuss the issues raised with our students.

I did just that, and found the program to be EXCELLENT. It’s quite lengthy because it discusses ALL of the fallouts of alcohol use/abuse on campus. There is a lengthy, very thorough section on sexual assault and the consequences that had to be an eye-opener for the students. It went into issues that even taught me something and my son and I had very good discussions.

I think this program should be mandatory at every college campus. I was very impressed by it and Texas Tech was one of the first universities, I believe, to use it as part of an excellent commitment to addressing these issues. IIRC, Tech was lauded for its program. Here’s the website for the company that developed AlcoholEdu, if anyone is interested:

February 27, 11:46 pm | [comment link]
7. teatime wrote:

Here’s some info from Texas Tech, too, if anyone is interested:

The university also uses a program called MentalHealthEdu by the same company to help faculty and staff deal with student mental health issues.
I’ve been very pleased with the way Tech addresses issues, especially how they keep parents in the loop by offering workshops, monthly newsletters, and “Webinars.”

February 28, 12:32 am | [comment link]
8. Larry Morse wrote:

It is necessary to add that the casual sex that characterizes so many college relationships, if described in s little detail, look no different from the scene described in the above case. A girls gets drunk or stoned or both, goes to her dorm, flags a guy down the hall who sees what is a fairly common situation and he takes what is apparently offered. Most of such casual sexual encounters don’t produce rape charges because such scenes are so common. What’s the big deal, getting laid one more time: so says the scenario. She wasn’t prepared for this? Maybe. But given secondary school morality and alcohol use, this is a little hard to believe. Am I blaming the “victim?”  Of course, but then, I am not so sure that victim is the right word in such cases. Should the guy not have had sex with her? Of course. But it us unfortunately necessary to deal with the real world for both young men and women. An environment that encourages casual sex, drug us and alcohol makes real rape less and less likely. Why rape a woman (force and violence) when all you have to do is ask?  Larry

February 28, 11:05 am | [comment link]
9. Sherri2 wrote:

When colleges and universities decided to have coed dorms - what did they expect? I have never understood the move to coed dorms. When I was at UGA the campus had just recently become “very” liberal by allowing men in the women’s dorms until 2 a.m. One poor girl on my hall spent the nights visiting friends and wandering the halls, because her roommate’s boyfriend spent the night in the dorm. Few of us were comfortable with having guys around that late - you walk down the hall for your shower and there are guys out there? I wondered then what the goal was other than to provide even more opportunity (and convenience) for making out.

February 28, 1:21 pm | [comment link]
10. malfi wrote:

Jon, actually, those facts DO constitute a crime.  The rapist’s contention that she had consensual sex with him should not have had any bearing, because she was legally incapable of consenting to sex when the incident happened.  Even if she had thrown herself at him, it would still be rape to have sex with her, much like a 11-year-old having sex with a 21-year-old is always rape because a 11-year-old is incapable of giving legal consent.

Whatever else Margaux did that night, none of it changes the fact that a terrible crime happened to her, and it is completely the fault of her rapist.  It does happen all the time, but that doesn’t make it any less of a crime.

February 28, 2:52 pm | [comment link]
11. Jon wrote:

Hi Malfi.  You are mistaken.  I wrote:

“Unfortunately, the only definite facts that we can be certain about is that the girl came home intoxicated…. [I go on to list a few more]”

You then claim that those facts as I listed them DO constitute a crime.

Simply being intoxicated does not it make it illegal for a man to have sex with her.  In order for her drunkenness to make the sex illegal, she would have to be so drunk that she had passed out.  That is not a fact we definitely know to be true, and no doubt the man contradicts it—all we know is that she was drunk.

Furthermore, women who are passed out drunk are unable to “throw themselves” at men—a scenario you describe as still constituting rape by the man.  If a girl is conscious enough to be throwing herself at a guy (by which I assume you mean openly showing great sexual interest in him), she’s not yet protected by the “no consent” laws.

Actually the scenario you describe would be a frightening police state.  A woman could have some drinks, be throwing herself (your words) at a guy, boldly requesting sex from him, and if the guy did have sex with her he could be imprisoned the next day and possibly sentenced to decades in prison for rape.

February 28, 3:21 pm | [comment link]
12. teatime wrote:

I really don’t think co-ed dorms have much, if anything, to do with this situation. The guy has serious issues and, even if the dorm wasn’t co-ed, he would have found opportunities elsewhere to do what he did. Most schools have co-ed and single-sex housing options and members of the opposite sex have no problem gaining entrance.

My son’s dorm was co-ed but it had separate sections for men and women. When I was in school, I lived in a co-ed dorm that had guys and gals on the same floor, just different wings. We saw the guys as friends or brothers and I liked having males available to walk me somewhere if I had to go to a meeting or the library late at night. I knew of no one who simply hooked up and had sex with guys in our dorm because they lived there and were accessible.

I have to admit that my sympathy for the gal in the story ebbed when I read how utterly plastered she was and how she simply gave her room key to a guy she didn’t know. I mean, COME ON! And what about the callousness of her friends for dropping her off in that condition? They should have AT LEAST made sure she got into her room safely. Maybe they couldn’t fathom her being raped, but weren’t they the least bit concerned about her falling somewhere and injuring herself?

It sounds like IU needs to spend some timie educating its students on appropriate behavior and consequences. If they’re already doing that, then they’d best review their programs because they’re not working.

My sorority sisters insisted that no one go to a party or bar alone or even in pairs. We were reminded often that we needed to look out for each other and keep our sisters safe. My son was home this weekend and he told me that his roommate is a member of a fraternity and the members all take regular shifts to man a special phone they set up for brothers to call if they’ve had too much to drink or get into any sort of difficulty. The fraternity makes sure someone is always available to go and pick up someone. The university has a similar hotline so that students who have been drinking can get a safe ride home or can get university escorts back to their housing if they’re out late.

I think IU and other universities have some work to do. Blaming the judicial system is passing the buck when there should have been more done to help prevent as many of these incidents as possible.

February 28, 8:34 pm | [comment link]
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