College students are afforded special exception in the criminal justice system. They rarely participate in it at all. Most schools, including Yale, have alternative systems to investigate and discipline crimes committed by students. These systems are useful in disciplining non-criminal offenses, like plagiarism, that aren’t illegal. The same system becomes less effective when it investigates offenses, like rape, that normally receive harsh punishment in the criminal justice system.

According to the Executive Committee’s recent end-of-year reports, sexual assault typically engenders punishment ranging from “reprimand” and “probation” to a three-semester suspension — a far cry from life in prison, a real, albeit unlikely, possibility if the perpetrators had been punished by a criminal justice system. Survivors of rape, on the other hand, face the same repercussions whether they are college students or not. Shouldn’t student perpetrators face the same consequences in college as they would outside the university too?

The answer is complicated by the fact that organizations like ExComm are established on the basis of protecting all students, victims and perpetrators alike. In contrast to the criminal justice system, ExComm records are confidential, which is a major encouraging factor in students’ decisions to report rape.

But systems like ExComm also protect the University. It protects the University from critique because students cannot speak about the process or instances of injustice, bound to confidentiality as they are. It protects the University from being forced under public pressure to adequately discipline perpetrators and from acknowledging the overwhelming severity of sexual assault on campus.

Most rapes, if they are reported and disciplined at all, will likely go through the Grievance Board or ExComm.

The opacity of these processes prevents students from knowing the true prevalence and character of rape on campus.

For instance, a month ago, an anonymous commenter on the News’ Web site accused me of inflating Yale’s estimated rape statistics to further personal interests. I applied a commonly-cited, Department of Justice-approved percentage to the Yale population. The commenter argued, “Yale ain’t America. You have a population with an overrepresentation of smart, polite, future-conscious folks …” While it may be true that rape happens less at Yale because we are all so “smart, polite [and] future-conscious,” in many circles, an allegation of rape is considered worse than rape itself. This is an impossible debate to settle.

If students at Yale are truly as they are described, then they should own up to the fact that rape is punished much less harshly at Yale than it is outside University jurisdiction. They should understand that rape is rape, and rape is wrong, no matter how nonexistent or lenient the punishment may be. Most importantly, they should understand that the real consequence of rape isn’t suspension or jail time. It’s the massive and never-ending ordeal — psychological, physical and emotional — that victims must endure. This is an ordeal that is magnified in cultures like that at Yale where rape is taboo. Men who are accused of rape face similarly unfair assumptions; in reality, rape is often neither premeditated nor intended.

The cultural stigma that surrounds rape victims is harsh enough to preclude rational people from falsely alleging rape. As for women who are accused of “overreacting” or “asking for it,” who cares? If a woman believes she has been raped, that is horrible, regardless of her character or what other people think about the situation. And if a man is accused of rape, that is also horrible for him to have to deal with. Rape does not benefit anyone.

At Yale, we are largely unaware about rape because few rape cases go beyond the University’s confidential judicial system. While this confidentiality is important, it masks the severity of the issue.

Tonight, at 7 p.m. in LC 101, you have the opportunity to hear a real case involving Todd and Amy, two students at a peer institution. This is an extraordinary case, not because of what actually happened (as it happens every weekend), but because it was pursued outside of the university judicial system. An attorney involved in the case will present all the facts and then ask the audience whether it was rape or just drunk sex. It’s a hard case with which to grapple, and you, the jury, will likely be split. Challenge your preconceived notions about rape and your assumptions about men and women, and consider the facts. You owe it to yourself and to your peers to do so.

Stacey Fitzgerald is a junior in Davenport College. She is the co-coordinator of rape and sexual violence prevention at the Yale Women’s Center.