A cautionary tale, to say the least

I’m not going to name names, but you can probably figure some of this out.  The moral of the story rests, however, not with who did it, but how it was done.

Suppose you are experiencing sexual harassment in an organizational setting.  All you have to do is to go to the relevant office for complaints?  Not exactly.  Thus the tale:

In the early 1990’s a friend of mine arrived at a large state university for her second job in academia.  She was quite wonderful, full of life and thought, and she had an assistant professorship.  Rather splendid looking, she was the sort that one can easily imagine a certain type of man might like to brush against and/or learn against.  Perhaps saying a few  “naughty words” in her ears and on  her email.  Yes, well that was her first job.  She sued on the grounds that “a chilly climate” was created, and she was compensated; this was in Canada. 

When she arrived at her second assistant professorship,  she was very wary.  Prepared for the worst, she got it, she maintains, from someone who, among other things, was having affairs in the department.  This time  the administration denied her allegations and were pretty  determined to stand by their man, along with belittling any evidence she had.   In the end, there was a settlement; he – with rumors of all sorts of misbehavior around him –  left to a lucrative professorship in another state, and she was given a supply closet as an office and two years’ salary, after which she was to leave.  Which she did, and she went on eventually to a successful career outside of academia.  She had some very difficult years, though.  It is hard to be treated as a worthless mistake for a long time and still feel much confidence.

And in the last several weeks the alleged harasser has hit the news.  He killed his wife, two friends and then himself.  

Moral:  Do not make any assumptions about whom  universities will defend.  From the Ivies  with graduate students locked in closets (true story,  I swear) down the tiers.

(Let me add a recognition of the many other great sorrows that are around this story, a number of them apparently stretching over about two decades.  My focus here, though, is on how academic hierarchies can act to protect the alleged perpetrator with little help available for the supposed victim.)

To test or not to test: there is the scandal

It is a scandal. Rape kits stacking up in labs around the US and not tested for months, a year, or not at all.  Or victims being charged thousands for  lab work.

As Kristof in the NY Times notes, getting a rape kit finished is

 a grueling and invasive process that can last four to six hours and produces a “rape kit” — which, it turns out, often sits around for months or years, unopened and untested.

Stunningly often, the rape kit isn’t tested at all because it’s not deemed a priority. If it is tested, this happens at such a lackadaisical pace that it may be a year or more before there are results (if expedited, results are technically possible in a week).

Meanwhile a rapist may be on the loose.  And some states, Texas among them, charges the victims for the processing of the kits.   There’s a report on Houston TV’s Channel Two about the situation.  There is a crime victims’ compensation fund and it typically has 55-65 million left over each year, funds that are very hard to collect.  And here is their video:

What happens when a jurisdiction does test the rape kit?  Kristof again,

While the backlog and desultory handling of rape kits are nationwide problems, there is one shining exception: New York City has made a concerted effort over the last decade to test every kit that comes in. The result has been at least 2,000 cold hits [DNA match] in rape cases, and the arrest rate for reported cases of rape in New York City rose from 40 percent to 70 percent, according to Human Rights Watch.

So why aren’t the rape kits tested.  And when they are, why do some states charge the victims?  Could it be it just isn’t seen as a serious crime?  That  is a scandal.