The headlines from elsewhere – an alleged gang rape at the University of Minnesota; allegations of 52 rapes by 31 Baylor University football players (including five gang rapes); a now-debunked Rolling Stone article about a gang rape that didn’t happen – have been more eye-popping. But the number of alleged rapes and sexual assaults on colleges and universities in the Carolinas has been just as disturbing.
As The Observer recently reported, sexual assault reports have jumped some 680 percent between 2012 and 2014 at UNC Charlotte (from 5 to 39), while a large increase at Davidson College means the school is now ranked first in the Carolinas, and 31st in the nation, for on-campus forcible sexual offenses among private, nonprofit four-year colleges and universities.
Part of the increase can be considered real progress. It means more victims feel empowered to come forward. A survey of nine schools last year by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which received responses from 23,000 students, found that only 12.5 percent of rapes and 4.3 percent of sexual battery incidents were reported by female undergraduates who said they had been assaulted. Those numbers must increase exponentially before a true picture of the problem on campus can be fully known.
Though we should be heartened by an increase in reporting, that’s little comfort to those who have been victimized and those who still don’t feel heard. About 21 percent of undergraduate females in the Bureau of Justice Statistics survey said they had been assaulted since arriving on campus; 7 percent of undergraduate males said the same.
It’s not a surprise that colleges and universities are having difficulty handling sexual assault claims. It is one of society’s most vexing problems, given the complexities of sex in even the best circumstances, and the need to balance due process rights for the accused while honoring the enormous societal pressures accusers are forced to navigate. Expulsions seem the most straight-forward answer because they ensure that a victim doesn’t have to spend the rest of her college career trying to avoid her rapist. But they also create a moral hazard.
If universities can simply rid themselves of students who commit such an awful crime – or who face accusations never proven in court but violate college conduct codes – it lessens the incentive to ensure that only students who won’t become a threat to others are accepted. Of course, universities provide an invaluable societal service by extending opportunity to young people who had problems but need a second chance.
Maybe one way to square that circle is to reduce the number of available scholarships for sports teams by one for every student-athlete expelled for rape or a corresponding amount of federal funding for every non-athlete expelled under such circumstances.
Even that comes with potential pitfalls. There is no perfect solution. But the status quo, or being satisfied with the progress that is an uptick in reported sexual assaults, is untenable. College and universities must do better.