Campus sexual assault activism needs new momentum and nuance


Since the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, people throughout the nation have banded together in their collective frustration of the Trump administration. Millions armed with clever signage and standing shoulder-to-shoulder  have taken to the streets to march and rally in an effort to ensure that fundamental rights and liberties are protected.

Campuses nationwide have channeled this spirit, playing host to student demonstrations. USC is not absent from this phenomenon, finding its activist voice after historically sitting on the sidelines in comparison to its institutional counterparts.

Yet, in light of the findings in the Daily Trojan’s Spring 2017 supplement on Tuesday, it is clear that there is one movement that has lost momentum: activism against sexual assault. But it shouldn’t be this way, as activism to prevent sexual assault and expand campus resources works concurrently with the larger social issues that students are already demonstrating against.

Elizabeth Gu | Daily Trojan

And despite the University’s effort to “chase zero” sexual assaults, it is clear that much work remains. On April 1, a sexual assault was reported at Fluor Tower. As the alleged perpetrator, Armaan Premjee, awaits trial, students should be reminded that the fight to end sexual assault on campus requires a more nuanced, dedicated fight.

In 2013, campus advocates identified the necessary conversation the 2013 federal Title IX investigation created among students. That seed planted by campus advocates was instrumental to the administration’s response. Since the start of the investigation, USC has adopted education programs, established online portals on the topic, assembled task forces and created dialogue between students.

That should have been just the seed. Instead, according to Vice President of Student Affairs Ainsley Carry, sexual assault activism has stalled in the years since the investigation started. Student interest has waned, and conversation has withered.

“I want to get back to the days when students were banging down my door saying, ‘Let’s do something to end sexual misconduct on our campus’ — I miss it,” Carry said. “I really want students to get fired up about this again. I don’t want this to become, ‘Oh, that was important in 2013’ — until we get to zero, this is still important.”

In order to get back to that vitality, we must expand our understanding of campus sexual assault and what needs to be done. Our supplement spotlighted areas in which the University still needs to make strides.

To receive a forensic exam, victims of sexual assault are directed to the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center, which, while providing extensive and world-class trauma care, is 45 minutes away — simply too far for many survivors. The Daily Trojan spoke to students exploring the feasibility of bringing rape evidence collection kits to campus. It’s an effort that all members of the USC community should look into — though the treatment center’s precision and expertise cannot be replicated, the distance between USC and Santa Monica does act as a deterrent. Students must advocate for a treatment center that  is geographically closer and enables survivors to care for themselves with as much ease as possible.

Annother issue is that student-athletes are six times more likely to commit sexual assault than other students at the University. Violence is endemic to sports culture. As students attending a university with an elite sports program, we have a responsibility to have the difficult conversations to remove attitudes of entitlement and hold our student-athletes accountable, despite their celebrity. And this includes making sure that after convicted athletes are expelled from this institution, justice continues to be served.

Other barriers for survivors arise when students feel uneasy with the Title IX process. Responses to Title IX cases may take longer than the 60 days that the federal government recommends as the length of a typical investigation. The Title IX office needs more staff and resources to ensure that investigators are able to dedicate the appropriate time and energy to each case. And since understaffing impedes the offices from closing a case in the recommended amount of time, a prolonged investigation may prohibit a survivor from moving on from their trauma.

Students should be fighting for these changes. It is admirable — but not enough — that students now undergo consent training when they matriculate to USC. We are all aware that sexual assault happens on all college campuses, USC included. But we are not all aware that the sexual assault response system at USC still needs marked improvement.

When the Daily Trojan titled its Spring 2017 supplement “Chasing Zero,” we meant it. We should not settle for a culture that allows sexual assault in any form. We want students to galvanize around this issue — to advocate for better resources and to change the toxic and predatory culture that still robs young Trojans of their agency. And we want to see them chase zero — to organize, to fight, to make greater efforts to expose and understand the complex issues surrounding sexual assault on a college campus, until USC’s reporting rates reach zero.

Daily Trojan Spring 2017 Editorial Board

  • Here’s some more nuance for everyone who cares about sexual assault: due process.

    We want justice for victims, that we all agree on. We also (should?) all agree on justice for the accused.

    Some folks ruin others’ lives with their genitals. Others do it with their mouths and keyboards.

    We need to approach each case with an open mind. The one who complains that So and so raped her could well be telling the truth. On the other hand, So and so could be telling the truth if he says he didn’t.

    And sometimes even both sides are being sincere. The complainant may legitimately believe that she made it clear she wasn’t consenting, even when the respondent legitimately believed she was consenting — so she may not be a liar and he may not be a rapist.

    On the institutional level, we need fair procedures to handle complaints of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. Like the historic right of confronting one’s accuser — especially in cases like these, commonly “he said she said” cases where credibility is everything. Needless to say, all sides would need to be restrained from abusing cross-examination to personally attack complainants, respondents, witnesses or anyone else. Any well-trained judicial administrator or hearing panel chair should be able to manage that as well as any other part of the college judicial process.

    Also, for those offenses likely to result in suspension of expulsion — as sexual assault and rape certainly should — the standard of proof could be clear and convincing evidence. It still falls short of beyond a reasonable doubt, but allows for enough certainty to be able to kick someone out of school — and, especially these days, likely destroy his (or her) school and career dreams.

    Those found responsible should be able to appeal, to make sure the school is making the right choice. However, we should not have double jeopardy — a second trial for an acquitted accused. Re-trying acquitted defendants is a time-honored method of abusing due process rights, which is why double jeopardy in the courts is unconstitutional.

    Finally, in cases where we not only find the defendant not responsible but also can prove the accuser was lying (as opposed to legitimately mistaken, see above), we should punish false accusers. Provided, of course, that they, too, are only found responsible given the same due process protections that those accused of rape and other offenses enjoy.

    Deterring and punishing rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment, while making sure we punish as few innocent people as possible, is a tough balance to strike. It’s certainly not quite as emotionally satisfying, nor does it “prove” your virtue quite as well, as an all-out anti-rape crusade.

    On the other hand, it does help avoid hurting a whole new set of victims. Which is what social justice is supposed to be about.