College campuses are hotbeds of sexual assault. As more and more frightening statistics pour in (such as the ever-unsettling one in every five women will be sexually assaulted by the end of her college career) it becomes clear just how commonplace this violence is.
Superficially, a recent sexual assault case, Harris v. Saint Joseph’s University, seems fairly run of the mill. The two students involved met up at night in the girl’s dorm, and the boy, Brian Harris, allegedly pressured her to have sex against her will. The college tribunal passed down a guilty sentence and Harris was promptly expelled from the university.
What makes this case unusual, however is the law that Harris and his attorney tried to use in his defense: Title IX, a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972. Summarily speaking, this law prohibits sexual discrimination at educational institutions. Most famously, the law is known for allowing female athletes to join or start sports teams equivalent to those for boys.
Harris claims to be wronged under this law, in that the school’s sexual assault procedures and trials discriminate against him as a man and make it impossible for him to receive an innocent verdict. He cited text messages sent between him and the victim that night, in which she invited him to her dorm room, as proof of the consensual nature of their sexual encounter.
Let’s run down the list. First of all, those text messages prove nothing. A girl inviting a boy to her room at night does not give him free reign over her body. Even if she sent those texts with the intent of having sex with him, she does not give him free reign over her body either. She can change her mind at any time.
Second of all, the implication that sexual assault laws are too coddling of victims is, in short, despicable. Ducking behind the reverse discrimination card when 78 women are raped every hour in the United States seems a poor defense already.
America’s women are being attacked brutally, and all the time. We rail against the suppression of and violence against women in places like the Middle East or Africa with verve and condescension, sleeping easy with the knowledge that 25 percent of American women report surviving rape since their 14th birthdays.
What kind of land of opportunity condemns half of its citizens to live in fear? What kind of world superpower raises its daughters to be objects and playthings and its sons to be violent criminals? What kind of free nation smothers the voices of its victims, filling them with fear of ostracism, embarrassment and abuse? What kind of a people accepts a Harris’ last-ditch attempt to escape sexual prosecution when its women can’t even walk through a parking lot at night without fear of attack?
We’ve let our friends, our sisters, our classmates and ourselves live like this for too long. The violence will continue, no doubt, as long as people like Harris can garner support for their insulting and unfounded assertion that men are the real victims. For the two-thirds of all sexually assaulted victims who never report it, and the 95 percent of those who do report it whose attackers go without conviction, there is work to be done.