Sexual assault does not happen only in the military. It happens at Yale, too. And Yale has, intentionally or unintentionally, instituted an environment where student survivors are implicitly discouraged from seeking justice against those who have assaulted them.
Students raped by other Yale students are almost invariably told to approach the Yale College Grievance Board, even though the board, designed for issues of sexual harassment, cannot take formal disciplinary action in student-to-student complaints. Already traumatized survivors are dragged through an informal arbitration process, no formal punitive action is taken, and the perpetrators remain on campus, unpunished. The implications of this can often be tragic; in one case in the last few years, a student-rapist taken in front of the board in the spring allegedly raped two other students the following fall.
Victims, of course, have options within the formal legal system, but the Yale administration practically discourages these options as well. University Health Services, for example, does not administer rape kits, which are an essential step in collecting evidence and must be conducted within 72 hours of the assault. Rape kits are administered at Yale-New Haven Hospital, but most students are raped over the weekend and then have difficulty reaching the hospital because Yale does not provide daytime weekend transportation.
Yale’s attitude towards student victims of sexual assault is inconsiderate, even callous. Unlike many universities, Yale does not have peer rape crisis counseling; CONSENT, the peer hotline for sexual harassment and assault issues, is only for support and discussion, and cannot, for example, volunteer information about one’s options unless specifically asked to do so, nor accompany students to the emergency room or the police even though such support can be vital right after an assault. University Health Services does not have any dedicated resources for survivors of sexual assault, and a phone call requesting information on what one should do resulted in being transferred a total of seven times.
The only real resource for Yale students is entirely unrelated to Yale itself: Sexual Assault Crisis Services, at 131 Dwight Street, can be reached at (203) 624-CARE, or toll free at the Connecticut sexual-assault crisis hotline, (888)-999-5545. This number, of course, cannot be dialed from a blue phone.
Yale, moreover, has discouraged SACS from providing its services directly on campus, and it has directly quashed student efforts to create more resources, whether through a peer rape crisis counseling system or through support groups for student survivors. This attitude is disturbing to many; one student, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed, “They [the Yale administration] do not want to allow a survivor group because then they’d have to admit that there are sexual-assault survivors at Yale.”
Yale can do much more on this issue, whether in terms of prevention, support or even prosecution. Executive Committee can, for example, press charges on its own against student rapists, on receipt of a police report, but it rarely does so. The Yale Police Department could institute the record keeping system known as “offender profiling, commonly and effectively used on other campuses to catch repeat offenders, but it has failed to do so.
ExComm’s report for 2001-02 openly acknowledges that the Yale administration sees assault as a relatively insignificant issue, admitting that ExComm “historically has given less severe penalties for physical assault– than for plagiarism.” The report continues, however, to urge “for a reassessment of the types of penalties assigned to acts of aggression and assault. It may be time to consider these types of actions with a level of gravity equal to that of plagiarism.” I am not as deeply troubled, however, by the thought that my fellow Yale student may be guilty of plagiarism as I am by the thought that he or she may have sexually assaulted other students. Such comments do not reassure one of the University’s increasing cognizance of the problem; they only encourage the view, common among sexual assault survivors and activists at Yale, that the University will do anything to prevent official complaints because those might sully its reputation as a safe campus.
I am not implying that Yale is somehow less safe, or more plagued by sexual assault, than other college campuses; such comparisons are difficult to make, and are not, indeed, my main concern. What is clear, however, regardless of that comparison, is that the University is failing to protect its students, both male and female, by allowing sexual predators to remain in our midst, unpunished and very likely unchanged. And when rapes happen, as they often do, it fails those students again by refusing to support them with the very minimum of resources. Rape happens, even at Yale, and our community can do so much more about it.
Madhumita Lahiri is a junior in Branford College. She is political action coordinator at the Yale Women’s Center.