Justice for Rapists: In the Courtroom or on Campus?

JurorsAs I’ve mentioned in prior posts, I have been following the recent activism and journalism that has flared up in response to sexual assault accusations on college campuses, and the mishandling of such situations by universities. While researching these trends, and rueing over how to better deal with something as serious as rape, beyond a mere slap on the wrist or expulsion, I constantly wondered why the police were not being involved in more of these cases.

Although I take issue with the criminal justice system for a number of reasons, and particularly their track record when dealing with rape and assault cases, it seems that college arbitration systems are equally as inept. It was refreshing, at the very least, to come across the article by Wagatwe Wanjuki, “RAINN’s Recommendations Ignore Need of Campus Survivors of all Identities” on Feministing.com, that for once addressed the complicated nature of this issue.

RAINN, the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network, has issued a series of recommendations to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, in the form of a sixteen page detailed letter you can read here. While the report offers a number of great recommendations regarding prevention techniques (including the Bystander Intervention option that I’ve previously written on), their position on the criminal justice system’s involvement, is this:

It would never occur to anyone to leave the adjudication of a murder in the hands of a school’s internal judicial process. Why, then, is it not only common, but expected, for them to do so when it comes to sexual assault? We need to get to a point where it seems just as innappropriate to treat rape so lightly.

Agreed! The point of contention for Wanjuki were statements such as the following:

The fact that the criminal justice process is difficult and imperfect, while true, is not sufficient justification for bypassing it in favor of an internal system that will never be up to the challenge.

Wanjuki responds to this:

I have had the opportunity to hear a wide range of reasons as to why survivors have turned to their schools, rather than the police, to address the sexual violence they endured. One of the most frequently-used reasons I have heard – especially from people of marginalized identities – is that they were drawn to school adjudication precisely because it wasn’t a part of the so-called ‘criminal justice system.'” And then, “It is difficult enough for survivors of rape to get their assailants convicted. In fact, RAINN recognizes on their website that a whopping 97% of rapists never see a day in jail.

There are a number of other interesting contentions to RAINN’s report that are worth reading through. Also, this opinion piece from Al Jazeera America, by Alexandra Brodsky, offers a thorough run-down on why reporting to police is not the way to go.

For a counter argument, see Natasha Vargas Cooper’s opinion piece also on Al Jazeera America.

I’m happy to see that this conversation is happening. We cannot make effective change on college campuses, particularly change that is sensitive to the people whose lives are affected by it, without really hashing out all of the pros and cons of potential options.

– Caterina Gironda

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