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Violence Against Women on the Internet

Campus Sexual Assault Policies
(opens: 4.16.02)
(opens: 4.23.02)
Sex Trafficking
(opens: 4.30.02)
The Internet as a Site of Resistance
(opens: 5.7.02)
(opens: 5.14.02)
NOTE: Modules will launch by 5 p.m. U.S. Eastern time on the date listed.


Introduction to Campus Sexual Assault Policies, continued

Rape occurs in several different contexts, under many different guises, and it is the context that seems to shape our thinking about whether the act was in fact a rape. At one end, when a male stranger attacks and rapes a woman on the street, we understand this to be rape. We understand the violation, we want vengeance, we consider the rapist to be a criminal. But if there exists any relationship between the rapist and the victim-and a relationship does exist in the vast majority of rapes-our focus shifts from the criminal violation that has occurred to an examination of the details of the story, and ultimately, the credibility of the victim.

Our focus on context takes attention away from the profundity of the act of sexual assault. It divides us over issues of consent and thus prevents us from addressing the more fundamental and important questions necessary to consider in any effort to stop rape. To acquaint yourself with some of the theories currently in play regarding rape, see the Theories of Rape section (note: this reading is optional). If you haven't spent much time thinking or reading about the issue of rape, go here to take a short quiz on rape facts and myths. On college campuses-where students' negotiations of sexual relations and expectations of sexual behavior are in flux, where alcohol and drug use are often central to social activities, and where dorm rooms are often places for socializing-sexual assaults tend to occur under circumstances in which legally insignificant details undermine the evidence of the violence.

Campus sexual assault is particularly problematic as it limits a woman's opportunities for educational advancement. The common reaction to sexual assault on campus is that the victim, who in over 95% of cases is female, withdraws from school, while the administrative board decides how or whether to punish the offender. But, like so often the case in other areas of male violence against women, the burden is borne by the survivor.

Our Case Studies involving sexual assaults at Harvard University, Boston University, Dartmouth University, and Catholic University, will question the cultural tendency to dismiss the possibility of acquaintance rape and will illustrate some of the ways in which universities too often fail to support the rights and needs of the victims. We will also consider the case of Christy Brzonkala, the plaintiff in the first Civil Rights case initiated under the Violence Against Women Act. After she was raped, she withdrew from Virginia Tech after learning that her rapist would be returning to school on a full athletic scholarship, even though he had been found guilty of rape. We will then take a look at how the Campus Security Act, the federal legislation mandating university crime reports, is and isn't used effectively by universities around the issue of sexual assault.

In considering the different claims made concerning the rape, we will focus on the questions of Consent, Coercion, and Consumption. These factors are central to rape analysis. Consent is the locus of most disagreement about whether a rape has in fact occurred. The discussion of consent is offered to encourage you to envision new ways of imagining what real consent might look like in our society where gender roles still dictate male aggression and female passivity. Alcohol consumption and drug use necessarily play a role in understanding consent and coercion when, according to the American Medical Association, 73% of assailants and 55% of victims admit to having used alcohol, drugs, or both immediately before the attack. Unfortunately, when rape cases involve alcohol use, and particularly underage drinking, authorities' responses too often focus on the drinking rather than on the assault itself. The most extreme example of this is the recent Boston University student who reported being sexual assaulted on campus and was then herself suspended for drinking while the perpetrator was not disciplined. Alcohol use often becomes one of the many ways in which rape victims' testimony and credibility are undermined in both campus disciplinary and criminal proceedings. Furthermore, alcohol is often mistakenly understood as the cause of sexual assault, when, in fact, it is a mere weapon that aids the perpetrator in enacting violence. A new conceptualization of consent will inform our analysis of different university sexual assault policies and disciplinary procedures.

By focusing on campus sexual assault, we can clearly see how incidents of sexual assault negatively affect a community. As STAAR (Students Together Against Acquaintance Rape), a peer education program at University of Pennsylvania, explains in its resource manual, "Your school's academic mission depends on the mental and physical health of its students… [H]ealthy students are better prepared to remain in school and complete their studies. Unhealthy students are at greater risk of poor academic performance, failure to complete their coursework on time, and failure to graduate. Furthermore, unhealthy students require an array of clinical services which are costly for schools to support. We believe that prevention programs, when designed to influence behaviors rather than to simply impart knowledge, can reduce the need for more costly intervention and clinical services." (

As learning communities with philosophical missions to intellectually enlighten their students and raise the moral standing of all members of their communities, universities have unique opportunities and unique responsibilities to eradicate violence and to promote healthy sexuality among students. In Disciplinary Procedures and Model Policies, we will consider several different measures that might be taken to combat sexual violence on campuses, and we will begin to envision the components that would constitute a model sexual assault policy. In Campus Resources and Internet Activism, we will take a closer look at a few examples of preventative education programs and on-campus resources for victims of sexual assault. We will also explore several ways that activist groups have used the Internet to promote their anti-violence agendas on their own campuses and to facilitate political mobilization among students from different universities.

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