From the September-October 2014 issue of News & Letters
by Terry Moon
Since the beginnings of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the early 1960s, we have been fighting rape, and rape culture. Finally, 50 years later, a U.S. president issued some mild recommendations on how to fight rape on college campuses, and two Democratic women have introduced legislation to make colleges more accountable for preventing and dealing with campus rapes.
While any forward movement is welcome, this has little to do with caring about women. Senator Claire McCaskill crows about how her bill has “bipartisan support,” but Republicans who co-signed it are hostile to women’s rights. Charles Grassley and Marco Rubio voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, Rubio is an anti-abortion fanatic, Kelly Ayotte voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, and Dean Heller supports big business at every opportunity, throwing women and youth under the bus to do so. They want their names on this bill only so they can cite it when rightly accused of being part of the Republican army’s war on women.
DOING IT FOR THEMSELVES AND OTHERS
That years of action by women—and most recently great activity from college women, many of whom experienced rape and the criminally insufficient response to it from their schools—is making a difference is judged, not by what the President and a few legislators do, but by the fact that it was the tremendous movement from below that forced reluctant politicians to finally move.
Can there be any doubt that movement is justified? This is only a little of what women have experienced in the hallowed institutes of higher learning:
- The University of Southern California purposely classified sexual assault on its campus as an “injury response” to prevent the Los Angeles Police Department as well as the campus Department of Public Safety from being notified of the crime. The campus police told a rape survivor: “Because he stopped [i.e., didn’t ejaculate], it was not rape. Even though his penis penetrated your vagina, because he stopped, it was not a crime.”
- A college basketball player who was reported to have raped women at two different colleges was then accepted at Northwest Florida State College. Their head basketball coach, proving he cared nothing for women at NFSC, promised “to give this young man an opportunity to continue his education,” and implicitly the opportunity to rape again.
- In 20% of institutions it is the athletics departments that oversee cases of sexual assault.
- Military service academies are exempt from Title IX and thus federal remedies for those suffering sexual assault, despite a 2003 investigation that found that 20% of women had been sexually assaulted at the Air Force Academy.
SELF-ORGANIZATION AND SOCIAL MEDIA
While the fight against rape has been continuous for five decades, new is the self-organization of college women who speak out against rape and creatively use social media to tell their stories and to organize others.
Women students and faculty members created the Occidental College Sexual Assault Coalition when they had had enough of that Los Angeles college’s mishandling of rape cases. Thirty-seven current and former students filed two federal complaints against Occidental and began reaching out to women at other schools. They co-founded End Rape on Campus to aid others in filing Title IX complaints. Another breakthrough in early 2013 was when Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, along with 65 other students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, filed a complaint about the mishandling of their rape cases. Then Kylie Angell together with six other University of Connecticut students filed complaints under the Clery Act and Title IX.
Pino and Clark reached out to their sisters at Dartmouth, the University of Southern California, UC Berkeley, Swarthmore, Occidental and more. Social media—Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, blogs, online magazines—was key; it was the way women told our stories. Speaking out about rape is never easy, but speaking out against rape where you may have been drinking too much, knew your rapist, or didn’t resist in a way to get beaten up enough to show the bruises, is especially hard. It’s hard because even after 50 years, even after the fact is known that rape may be about sex but it’s also about violence and power, even after all the work women have done, we still get blamed. Yet these women spoke—and acted.
That is why the pragmatist Obama decided it was time to move and Republicans, who have never done anything for women but get in our way and try to take away our freedoms, have signed their names to legislation that would help women in the fight we have been waging for a very long time. The truth is they can’t and won’t do it for us; we must keep the struggle and the movement in our own hands.