Dartmouth College equates rape threats with anti-rape protests; threatens to discipline the anti-rape protesters

Dartmouth College administrators deserve to go to the back of the class for the way they’re dealing with misogynist rape and death threats on campus.

ThinkProgress reports that the school’s Board of Trustees chair

appeared to equate the actions of sexual assault protesters with the subsequent death and rape threats made against them by several other Dartmouth students on anonymous online forums and message boards.

As if that wasn’t enough, Dartmouth is threatening to discipline both the anti-rape protesters and the students who have made rape and death threats against those protesters. Nice!

I’d love to believe that rape-friendly campus cultures were limited to Dartmouth. Dartmouth, after all, has long had the reputation of being the most wingnutty of the Ivy League schools. It is, for example, the place where those lovely people Laura Ingraham and Dinesh D’Souza got their start in the 1980s, becoming darlings of the right by, among other things outing LGBTQ students without permission in the campus right-wing rag.

But campus rape culture is by no means restricted to Dartmouth. Last week, for example, the New York Times reported that complaints were filed against Swarthmore and Occidental Colleges for mishandling sexual assault cases. Here’s what one Occidental student had to say:

Carly Mee, now a senior, said, “When I told an administrator that I did not feel safe, I was told that I had nothing to worry about, that she had met with my rapist, and that he didn’t seem like the type of person who would do something like that.” She said that even after the man was found responsible for assaulting her and two other women, he would be allowed back to Occidental, while she was afraid to return.

And here’s what a Swarthmore student alleges:

Hope Brinn, one of those who filed the complaint against Swarthmore, said that a fellow student repeatedly sexually harassed her and broke into her room in the middle of the night. Ms. Brinn, a sophomore, said that college administrators tried to dissuade her from making a formal complaint, made light of what had happened, said that she was partly to blame, and in their official records, inaccurately described her allegations to make them seem less serious.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has also been accused of covering up its rape problem and mistreating sexual assault victims. As Jessica Valenti has reported, UNC administrators

pressured the dean [Melissa Manning] to underreport sexual assault cases and harassed her when she wouldn’t. Manning also alleges that when she didn’t change the statistics, others did.

Valenti also reports that rape victims at UNC have been mistreated. There is, for example, this disgusting incident:

Annie Clark, who graduated in 2011, alleges that when she reported her rape in 2007 she was told by an administrator: “Rape is like a football game, Annie. If you look back on the game, and you’re the quarterback and you’re in charge, is there anything that you would have done differently in that situation?”

There are several issues here. One is that college administrators seek to cook the books by misreporting campus rape statistics (which they are required by law to make public). In addition, as Valenti notes, rape victims are often directed to rape counselors (who are not required to disclose rape incidents) rather than to campus police, who are. Finally, rape victims are often mistreated by campus officials and harassed by fellow students if they complain — while the rapists frequently get no more than a slap on the wrist, if that.

The Obama administration is to be commended for instituting tougher standards for reporting campus rapes (which they did in 2011), but the law should be changed to make reporting even more stringent. There also appears to be a desperate need for more sensitivity training for administrators who handle rape cases. Victims should never be shamed, blamed, or dissuaded from going to the police.

Finally, we desperately need more anti-rape education in the schools, at the elementary, secondary and college level alike. One of the most horrifying things about the Steubenville rape case is that students witnessed the victim being assaulted but didn’t do or say anything to prevent it. Among the reasons they failed to act is that they didn’t recognize that what they were witnessing — the penetration of a young woman who was too inebriated to be capable of consent — was rape.

Studies show that “cultural opposition to rape myths makes men less likely to commit assault.” Given that we’re all marinating in a pop culture environment that continues to deny, downplay, excuse, and make ugly jokes about rape, interventions like anti-rape education could be a powerful rape prevention tool.

Back in the stone age when I was in college, campus anti-rape Take Back the Night protests were common. It depresses me that, all these years later, in spite of all that activism and all those protests, so many college administrations are still failing to take rape seriously.

Kathleen Geier

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee