Yale angered the entire Internet this week by releasing a report on sexual misconduct that eschewed the word “rape” in favor the phrase “nonconsensual sex.” My dearly beloved alma mater issued this statement yesterday in an effort to mollify its critics. (The school used the same phrase in its 2012 report as well.)
Basically, the school’s argument for using a phrase that suggests that certain kinds of rape are somehow not legitimately rape is that rape is a criminal finding, and the evidentiary standard the disciplinary committee uses isn’t the same one used in a criminal proceeding. The school is drawing the same distinction as the one that exists between “wrongful death” and “murder.”
I’m not sure if I buy that argument. It seems like the school could have found another way of dealing with this legal issue that wasn’t as hurtful to the victims who know their cases are described in this report or as convenient for Yale’s own public image.
I do think Yale deserves at least some credit for changes it has made in response to a Title IX legal proceeding. First of all, while only one the six cases of “nonconsensual sex” described in the report resulted in a suspension, the fact that a student was punished at all represents a major improvement. Last year, a student was expelled, apparently the most severe punishment the university had administered in a case of student sexual misconduct in at least a decade.
Second, although the term “nonconsensual sex” is very offensive, the school’s reports on sexual misconduct have actually become much less euphemistic and more informative. Previous reports, the ones I and my fellow student journalists combed through while we were there, were completely impenetrable. They were full of entries such as this one:
Junior, charged with Acts of violence: Physical restriction, assault, sexual assault, or other acts of violence and Harassment, intimidation or coercion for entering a room that was occupied while not wearing clothing at 37 High Street, was reprimanded.
(That’s two charges, one for “Acts of violence: Physical restriction, assault, sexual assault, or other acts of violence” and another for “Harassment, intimidation or coercion.” 37 High Street is a fraternity house. I have no idea what happened there.)
There is absolutely no reason to think that the situation is any better at other schools. A 2009 study found that approximately one in five college women nationally are the victims of “a completed sexual assault.” Yale benefits from having feminists on campus who are smart, disciplined, and willing to organize on behalf of their peers, and they’re drawing attention to a problem that every college administrator should be thinking about carefully.