What NOW | 2016: The Year in Campus Rape

2016: The Year in Campus Rape | Courtney Iseman


Each year we hope to see a drastic improvement in the way campus rape is handled. As more and more victims bravely come forward, and as the Internet and social media allow their stories to reach further and further, it can seem overwhelming to try to review even just a year’s worth of sexual assault cases. Are the numbers getting worse, or do we just know about more instances now? Either way, the need for change grows more dire every day. But to understand just how badly action is needed and where it is needed, we have to look back and keep these cases and victims in mind.

There were sparks of hope in 2016. West Texas A&M University earned praise for its safety measures and rape prevention education. California legislators responded to the Brock Turner case by creating a law to expand the legal definition of rape and impose mandatory minimum sentences. The number of sexual assault cases and the appallingly poor reactions from many schools is proof that we need to demand faster change. Here are just some of 2016’s cases.

Judge Aaron Persky’s sentences Brock Turner to only six months of jailtime.

Because of the criminally light sentence and also because of the brave victim referred to as Emily Doe’s statement, this case became a lightning rod in the campus rape conversation. A recall effort was made against Persky, a fellow Stanford alum who showed Turner, a swimmer at the university, clear favor in giving him a six-month sentence, saying “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.” In response, Turner’s father infamously complained that his son’s life had been ruined for “20 minutes of action.” Turner didn’t even serve the six months, and was released after three in September. The fight to recall Persky is ongoing, and he has stepped back from hearing criminal cases.

Baylor University suppressed rape victims under its code of conduct.

The Texas school was already under fire for its athletic department ignoring and lashing out at female students who reported instances of rape. Lawsuits brought by eight women against Baylor then shone a light on the entire school’s policy of victim-blaming. The conservative Christian school wielded its own strict rules against potential rape victims. If they reported a rape that happened at a party where drinking was involved, they would be in trouble for drinking. Their parents would be notified and disciplinary actions would be taken. After reporting her rape, for example, one woman was issued a violation and made to do 25 hours of community service for drinking, then was urged to drop her rape claim, which was never investigated. She was drinking off-campus, which Baylor’s code does not govern, yet she was still punished — meanwhile, the school is bound to investigate rape claims both on-campus and off.

Austin James Wilkerson walks free after being convicted of a 2014 rape at the University of Colorado.

Wilkerson volunteered to care for a fellow student after she was separated from friends at a party. Instead, he raped her. District Judge Patrick Butler passed on giving Wilkerson prison time, instead sentencing him to 20 years probation and two years in Boulder County Jail’s program that lets him leave during the day for work or school. The sentence sparked widespread anger and the labeling of Wilkerson as “Boulder’s Brock Turner.” Similarly to Turner’s case is are the letters to the judge from supporters of Wilkerson, all portraying the rapist as the victim. “I think he is a young man that will go far in this world if not defined by this one incident,” read one. Read another: “The most traumatic incident that Austin has faced is this sexual assault case.”

Delaney Robinson publically accuses her rapist and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill public.

Six months after reporting her attacker to UNC, Robinson publicly accused her school of ignoring her claims and even favoring her rapist, Allen Artis. The hold-up in the investigation? The school said it was waiting on Robinson’s rape kit test results to see her blood alcohol level, which Robinson’s lawyer pointed out is completely irrelevant. When allowed to watch the interview between campus police and Artis, Robinson saw a sense of camaraderie. They laughed with Artis over how many girls’ phone numbers he’d gotten that night, and told him “Don’t sweat it. Just keep on living your life and playing football.” In contrast, Robinson was interrogated after making her claim, asked about her drinking and sexual history. In August, Robinson was informed that charges against her attacker were unlikely, prompting her case against the UNC. That finally forced the school to reopen the case and suspend Artis from the football team while the investigation continues.

Cecilia Carreras files a federal complaint against the University of Richmond for mishandling her assault case.

In September, Carreras filed the complaint and also wrote an essay for the Huffington Post about how her school reacted when she reported that she’d been raped by a University of Richmond athlete. The university responded to her claims with a campus-wide e-mail calling Carreras’s assertions “inaccurate.” Carreras, in turn, wrote another essay explaining she had just wanted an apology and instead she was called a liar. In this second essay, Carreras included screen grabs of emails between her and school administrators. The school barely bothered the (unnamed) attacker during the investigation and allowed him to remain on his team before dropping the case all together. When the case was dropped, one of the deans told Carreras “I thought it was reasonable for him to penetrate you for a few more minutes if he was going to finish.” This was despite it being on record that the rapist had admitted to hearing Carreras telling him to stop, and that Carreras had never given him consent.

A student files a complaint against Old Dominion University for interrogating her for eight hours after she reported her rape.

The unnamed student says she went to campus police about her attack, and told them she had an appointment at a local medical center for a forensic exam. Instead of taking her to the appointment or even allowing her to leave to make it in time, campus police questioned the victim for eight hours straight. During the interrogation, the student was kept separate from her family and YWCA victim advocate, and denied food, water, or access to a bathroom. They dragged the questioning out and kept the student from getting tested as quickly as possible to preserve evidence. They made her out to be the criminal, asking her questions about her sexual preferences and saying “I’m just trying to find the crime here.” ODU also refused to find the student different living arrangements (she’d been raped in her own bed) until her family agreed to sign off on the university’s media statement that they were “working with the family.”

Eight rapes in two years go unreported at Wagner College.

The Office of Postsecondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education found that the Staten Island college was alerted to four rapes in 2014 and four in 2015, yet did not report any. According to the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act and the Higher Education Opportunity Act, schools receiving federal student aid must submit annual reports of campus safety statistics. Wagner simply said that just because a rape complaint was filed doesn’t mean that the accused rapist was found guilty, and so those cases didn’t have to be reported. The fact that none of the alleged attackers were found guilty is suspect: one victim said that in the investigation of her assault, she was given a fellow student for counsel while the accused was given a law professor. Wagner’s vice president of campus life, Dr. Shah-Gordon, also said that if a rape seemed like an isolated incident, “then we’re not sending something out to the whole campus.”

The University of Alaska Fairbanks fails to react to a student’s rape claim.

At the beginning of the fall semester, sophomore Jessie Wattum was raped by a fellow student after her memory was clouded by the alcohol that he had given her. She went to the hospital and filed a police report, but the district attorney decided not to press charges and the university allowed the accused attacker back into his dorm hall, to resume life as normal. Wattum’s mother, Kate, is an associate director of public relations for the school, and had been working on recent efforts to improve the university’s response to sexual assault. One of those improvements was the promise of a care team for every victim, but no such thing ever materialized for Jessie. A school spokesperson says the case is being looked into now, but the administration still hadn’t removed the alleged rapist from campus, as per Jessie Wattum’s request, so that she could safely return to school.

Courtney Iseman is a New York-based writer who puts words together about everything from rock bands to clothing lines to food purveyors for magazines, blogs, brands, and retailers. Her favorite subject to write about, though, is strong, outspoken women in every industry — she’s lucky to have interviewed quite a few and can’t wait to talk to more.

Courtney Iseman is a New York-based writer who puts words together about everything from rock bands to clothing lines to food purveyors for magazines, blogs, brands, and retailers. Her favorite subject to write about, though, is strong, outspoken women in every industry — she’s lucky to have interviewed quite a few and can’t wait to talk to more.