KRONICK: Listening to survivors of sexual violence

We are correct to condemn sexual violence on this campus. It’s something that should have no place at Yale University or any other college nationwide. Nonconsensual sex transforms an act that embodies the highest form of human intimacy into one of human attack. For those subjected to sexual violence, it is a catastrophic, not tragic, event. The only lesson learned by survivors is our species’s ability to hurl cruelty upon its own kind. Before I continue, I must reveal my own bias as a former communication and consent educator. This background certainly colors my view of sexual misconduct and of Yale’s attempt to fight it.

But some on this campus believe our problems stem from a lack of transparency in our disciplinary procedures.

If a student wants to learn about the membership or the function of the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, they should visit its website. Communication and consent educators have given the past two classes of freshmen a pamphlet with the website and information about sexual misconduct resources at Yale. The website explains how a student may file a complaint and what the process will look like. The website is easily available by simply searching “University-Wide Committee Yale.”

The University uses a case-by-case basis not to leave procedures undefined, but rather to give complainants flexibility in the conduct of the report process. An excess of transparency in fact harms the reporting process by making it more difficult for the survivor — possibly preventing them from feeling comfortable in making a report. Transparency, as a greater principle, has limits. The University can only release so much information before it injures the survivors that it is charged to protect.

Preferred expulsion, advocated by many and adopted most notably on Duke University’s campus, is another step that might make survivors less likely to come forward.

Preferring expulsion is misguided because it straitjackets the complainant’s options. Barring cases of community danger, the wishes of the complainant ought to be respected. A few friends who talked to me about their experience with sexual violence did not want the expulsion of the attacker. When survivors come forward, they often hope to find the remedy they imagine to be just and fair for their situation. But mandatory responses could force survivors into a potentially unwanted outcome, and therefore could make a survivor less likely to report an instance of sexual violence.

Responsiveness to survivor needs and wants, not mandatory punishments, should be the guiding principle in the remedy process. For survivors who wish to have their attacker expelled, Yale should zealously pursue expulsion. But because some complainants want a different remedy, the case-by-case method of disciplinary action must be retained. The report system must be survivor-directed.

Survivor-driven response is essential because it encourages the largest number of people to make reports of sexual violence. We have all heard the facts about sexual misconduct on college campuses. Many more survivors exist than those who report instances of sexual misconduct. Mandatory punishments will only narrow the pool of reports. We also know that deterrence does not work. Prohibition did not end drinking, and expulsion alone will not end rape culture.

Instead of attacking our administrators, we must work with them to create a community of mutual respect. We can do this by policing ourselves. When you see a friend too drunk to walk, take him home. When you see someone acting too aggressively, say something. Yale’s administration can only do so much. Students, too, must commit to ending the cruelty we inflict and allow to be inflicted on our brothers and sisters at our beloved University.

Will Kronick is a senior in Silliman College. Contact him at william.kronick@yale.edu .

 

Comments