NEWS’ VIEW: Punishing sexual violence

Our University has failed to take a serious stance against rape.

Yale has needed an adequate system to punish perpetrators of sexual assault for far too long.

Again, we spent the summer reading about our University’s ineffective and embarrassing response to sexual violence, as we learned that those guilty of sexual assault remain on our campus. Again, we watched as our school’s reputation and integrity were questioned in headlines nationwide.

Our University’s response to rape has failed us, and many of us are rightfully angry. Some students on campus have even formed a group called “Students Against Sexual Violence at Yale.” It is a sad reflection on the state of our campus that such an affirmation is necessary.

Sexual violence persists in part because Yale has done too little to stop it. The most recent Report of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct revealed that some respondents have received only written reprimands after investigations found them guilty of nonconsensual sex. What amounts to an angry letter is painfully insufficient punishment for these crimes.

Worse yet, the policies at the source of these punishments remain unclear. The University uses its case-by-case approach as license to leave rules enigmatic and procedures undefined. When policies remain opaque, students have no way to conceptualize enforcement. Do you know which of your peers sit on the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct? Do you know how Yale would judge your complaint?

It is time for the University to take a firm and transparent stance against sexual assault.

The preferred punishment for nonconsensual sex at Yale must be expulsion. If, after rigorous and thorough investigation, a student is found guilty under Yale’s evidentiary standard, that student must leave our community. Yale claims that expulsion is the first punishment considered, yet we know that it is rarely implemented. Because of this discrepancy, the wishes of the survivor should serve as the only factor to mitigate punishment — preventing Yale from continuing to under-punish assault while pretending to prefer expulsion.

For actions that do not meet Yale’s definition of nonconsensual sex, but are still nonconsensual violations of a sexual nature, the preferred sanction must be, at minimum, suspension. Before returning to campus, violators must receive counseling to ensure they will not compromise the safety of our community.

The interests of survivors should guide our actions. Many want their assailant to be removed from their community, and survivors deserve their input counted in the process of punishment and sentencing.

Because of these realities, punishments of written reprimands and probation are not only insufficient, but also ineffective. They fail to remove guilty parties from campus, even though these students might constitute a threat to the student body. The University has a responsibility not just to the survivor but also to the community — we know the danger repeat offenders present.

By changing policy we can change culture. We must publicize these policies across campus and nationwide to send a clear message against sexual assault. When students can conceptualize the punishments they will receive, they will know their actions have consequences at our school.

Only then will we begin to believe that Yale takes rape seriously, and only then will students feel safe from sexual violence in our community.

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