The past year has seen a series of Title IX complaints from around the country by students alleging that their universities are not taking the problem of rape seriously enough. Now add the University of Connecticut to the pile. In a press conference on Monday, lawyer Gloria Allred, six students, and one alumna announced that they are complaining about UConn’s pattern of indifference to rapes and sexual harassment committed by students.
Some of the stories told by the students were nauseating. Alumna Kylie Angell reported a rape by a male student, who was initially expelled from campus. Angell alleges that the school then retracted that expulsion without telling her, and her alleged rapist proceeded to intimidate her. In desperation, she says, she went to the campus police, where one officer reportedly told her, “Women need to stop spreading their legs like peanut butter, or rape is going to keep on happening till the cows come home.” It is worth noting that the officer’s use of the colloquial phrase “spreading your legs” actually describes consensual sex, which is what rape is not, something they should definitely start teaching in cop school. Angell also alleges that the male student raped someone else later that year.
Part of the problem here appears to be that schools are reluctant to view students who rape as what they are: sexual predators who enjoy raping because it makes them feel powerful. There’s a widespread myth out there that rape is a matter of miscommunication or a case of a man getting a little too carried away. Both myths probably make it easier for school officials to convince themselves that the rapist in question didn’t mean to rape anyone and therefore isn’t a threat to keep around. In reality, as researcher David Lisak pointed out to NPR, most rapes are committed by serial rapists who carefully plan out their crimes. Under the circumstances, schools need to understand that if a student rapes another student, the likeliest explanation is that the rapist knew exactly what he was doing and will almost surely do it again if he’s not held accountable. If rapists can access their victims on campus, they will tend to use that opportunity to harass, intimidate, and draw out the pleasure they derived from the rape by continually making their victims miserable, since rapists tend to be sadists with major power fantasies.
Of course, another part of the problem is that it simply feels easier a lot of the time to let the victim’s misery and depression cause her to drop out rather than deal with the hassle of pushing violent men off campus, especially if the men are useful members of various athletic endeavors. UConn has displayed a pattern of going easy on athletes in just this way:
UConn running back Lyle McCombs was arrested in October 2012 for “yelling, pushing, and spitting” at his girlfriend during a dispute outside a campus residence. McCombs was suspended for one quarter of the team’s next football game. Basketball player Enosch Wolf was arrested in February for domestic violence. Wolf was suspended indefinitely, though the charges were dropped later because he completed counseling. Wolf left UConn to play basketball in Germany.
Just because it’s the easy choice doesn’t mean it’s the right choice. Campus life will be better for everyone—except violent men—if women can go about their business without fear of being beaten or raped with impunity.