Judge hands down six-month sentence for sexual assault to avoid “severe impact” on assailant

The victim read a letter to her assailant regarding the impact this has had on her during the proceedings.

Via BuzzFeed:

One night in January 2015, two Stanford University graduate students biking across campus spotted a freshman thrusting his body on top of an unconscious, half-naked woman behind a dumpster. This March, a California jury found the former student, 20-year-old Brock Allen Turner, guilty of three counts of sexual assault. Turner faced a maximum of fourteen years in state prison. On Thursday, he was sentenced to six months in county jail and probation. The judge said he feared a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner, a champion swimmer who once aspired to swim in the Olympics — a detail repeatedly brought up during the trial.

On Thursday, Turner’s victim addressed him directly, detailing the severe impact his actions had on her — from the night she learned she had been assaulted by a stranger while unconscious, to the grueling trial during which Turner’s attorneys argued that she had eagerly consented.

The full letter the Stanford victim read to hear assailant describing the impact on her is posted at BuzzFeed. I was going to excerpt a quote, but the letter is so powerful and important, I just want to encourage you to read it in its entirety instead.

Response to AAUP report on Title IX from Faculty Against Rape

Faculty Against Rape has drafted a response to the AAUP’s draft report on Title IX to submit by the end of the comment period tomorrow, and they are accepting signatures from academics in support of the letter. The full letter is here, and the form to add your name is here.

Here’s a passage from the introduction:

As members of Faculty Against Rape (FAR), a group of more than 300 faculty and civil rights activists from across the U.S., we write to express grave concerns regarding the American Association of University Professor’s (AAUP) draft report on Title IX.  We started FAR in the summer of 2014 as an ad-hoc volunteer collective whose mission is to get more faculty involved in preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment and improving campus responses. FAR is also committed to protecting faculty who experience retaliation for doing so. Over the past two years, FAR has provided resources for faculty to learn how to best support survivors, tools for faculty who want to get more involved in reform efforts, and support for faculty who face retaliation. Collectively, our members have supported literally hundreds of survivors at campuses across the country. Many of them have endured significant retaliation from university administrations who want to protect the university brand, even at the cost of the safety and well-being of students. We have seen the crisis of campus sexual violence, and the nature of Title IX enforcement as practiced, often inadequately, across campuses in the United States, first-hand.

Our experiences, as members of educational communities involved in these issues on the ground, have made evident that Title IX enforcement at institutions of higher education is, indeed, a matter of pressing concern. However, if the AAUP seeks to adequately understand, and competently comment on this issue, it must take care to, at the very least, attend to the body of existing expert scholarship— including scholarship by some of its own members— on this topic. As it stands, we are troubled by much of the framing, content, unrepresentative nature of, and failures of accuracy within, the draft report.

The overall impression given by the report is that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is ‘overreaching’ in its mandated mission of providing guidance to universities and ‘abusing’ Title IX; this,  despite the fact that there is broad underreporting of campus sexual assault by universities. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) analyzed DOE data and found that 91% of colleges did not report any rapes in 2014, leading the AAUW to exclaim that “The data reported by the nation’s colleges simply defy reality and common sense,” given that they “don’t reflect campus climate surveys and academic research.”

While we would ordinarily join with the AAUP in resisting the corporatization of institutions of higher learning, we are deeply concerned that the AAUP’s analysis of this issue as it pertains to Title IX, by pitting student concerns for campus safety against faculty interests, reinforces the symptoms instead of addresses the problem. Students and faculty alike are rightfully alarmed by universities and colleges placing the protection of their reputation before the integrity of their campus communities — but these concerns ought to unite, rather than divide us. The AAUP is right to remind us that administrative overreach into the classroom may be driven by a misguided focus on public relations, but we should also acknowledge that it is this very feature of the contemporary university that victims of campus sexual misconduct have been decrying as they witness justice, safety, and prevention sacrificed time and again for the sake of the bottom line.

What’s Wrong with the AAUP’s Report on Title IX: Preponderance of the Evidence Standard Redux

I posted a couple of days ago about some of the problems with the AAUP’s recent report on Title IX. I think there are others, but for considerations of space, just mentioned two: one of which was the AAUP’s resistance to the preponderance of the evidence standard, the other was the AAUP’s confusion regarding the increase and manner of OCR investigations. At some point, I think it would be valuable to discuss some of those other issues (I’ll draw on a couple of points from this letter from the National Women’s Law Center below, but I encourage you to read it in full as it pertains to some of the other issues in the report as well), but first, more on the justification for the preponderance standard.

Brian Leiter wrote a reply to my post, taking issue with this passage:

But, more to the point, if Title IX complaints were held to a higher standard than a preponderance of the evidence when other civil rights claims are adjudicated by exactly that standard, then it would follow that complainants would be held to a higher standard, i.e., disadvantaged, on the basis of sex, i.e., they would be subject to sexual discrimination.

I cited Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education in the explanation of my thinking, and in an update on his post, Leiter writes, “that retaliation for reporting sex discrimination is actionable sex discrimination for purposes of Title IX does nothing to establish that a higher standard of proof to prevail on a sex discrimination claim is sex discrimination.” Leiter is right that, in itself, that retaliation in the context of Title IX constitutes sex discrimination says nothing about standards of proof, but I didn’t say that it did. What I did say is that I think the courts’ reasoning in the course of determining whether or not retaliation constitutes discrimination – i.e., how the court defined what it is for something to constitute “discrimination on the basis of sex” – does.

Here’s that language again (emphasis mine):

In all of these cases, we relied on the text of Title IX, which, subject to a list of narrow exceptions not at issue here, broadly prohibits a funding recipient from subjecting any person to “discrimination” “on the basis of sex.” 20 U. S. C. ß1681. Retaliation against a person because that person has complained of sex discrimination is another form of intentional sex discrimination encompassed by Title IX’s private cause of action. Retaliation is, by definition, an intentional act. It is a form of “discrimination” because the complainant is being subjected to differential treatment. See generally Olmstead v. L. C., 527 U. S. 581, 614 (1999) (KENNEDY, J., concurring in judgment) (the “normal definition of discrimination” is “differential treatment”); see also Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, 462 U. S. 669, 682, n. 22 (1983) (discrimination means “less favorable” treatment). Moreover, retaliation is discrimination “on the basis of sex because” it is an intentional response to the nature of the complaint: an allegation of sex discrimination. . .

The import of the Jackson language quoted is not that the retaliation was a response to the person (Roderick Jackson) but to the claim (in Jackson’s case, a series of complaints about unequal treatment that he felt were prohibited by Title IX).  It can be analogized to campus responses to sexual assault cases in the following way: when a victim makes a complaint that s/he was sexually assaulted, under Title IX that is a claim of sex discrimination, because sexual assault is a severe form of sexual harassment, and sexual harassment has been confirmed by SCOTUS to be a form of sex discrimination.  Therefore, if the school responds to that claim using a process that requires a higher standard of proof than the standard of proof that the school uses for other claims, ones that do not implicate Title IX and do not allege sex discrimination, that is, in the words of the Court in Jackson, “differential treatment.”  So if a student made a complaint that s/he was the victim of harassment based on his/her race, the school would be required under Title VI to use a preponderance of the evidence standard.  If the school were still using “clear and convincing evidence” for sexual assault cases, this would mean that claims of sex discrimination (severe sexual harassment in the form of sexual assault) would be treated differently, and less favorably, by the school from claims of race discrimination (racial harassment).

Similarly, if one white, male, heterosexual student accused another white, male, heterosexual student of punching him in the face and the school used a preponderance of the evidence standard in its process for responding to that assault, but was still using “clear and convincing” in its process for sexual assault, that would be differential treatment based on the nature of the claim, where the claim alleging discrimination based on sex got “‘less favorable treatment” (see language from Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, 462 U.S. 669, 682, n. 22, 103 S.Ct. 2622, 77 L.Ed.2d 89 (1983) included in Jackson) than the claim not alleging discrimination based on sex.

The National Women’s Law Center (lead counsel in Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education) seems to agree that parity with other claims justifies the use of the preponderance standard in Title IX claims: Given that Title IX was modeled after Title VI, and preponderance of the evidence is the standard used in claims brought under Title VI, it is also the standard that applies to Title IX claims. The preponderance standard is also used in litigation of claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, regarding sex discrimination in employment. Thus, it is the correct standard for allegations of sexual harassment, including violence.” (If you doubt that courts have taken up this standard, note the footnotes to this passage in their letter.)

Likewise, Nancy Cantalupo, in the piece I linked to a few days ago, writes,

Allowing schools to adopt a criminalized standard of proof such as “clear and convincing” evidence or “beyond a reasonable doubt,” . . . would also create legal and administrative barriers for student survivors of gender-based violence that do not apply to the vast majority of comparable populations involved in civil or civil rights proceedings, all of which use the preponderance standard. To name just a few, these groups include: other students alleging other kinds of sex discrimination; students alleging discrimination based on other protected categories, like race or disability; gender-based violence survivors seeking protection orders in civil court; students alleging other forms of student misconduct; and students accused of sexual or any other misconduct who sue their schools in civil court. In reality the preponderance standard is used in the vast majority of cases, not only in internal disciplinary proceedings but also in other administrative or civil court proceedings and under other civil rights statutes that protect equality . . . Indeed, separating out sexual violence victims for different procedural treatment would enact a new kind of damaging “exceptionality [for] rape,” as Michelle Anderson discusses in her paper for the September 25 Conversation. Using anything more stringent than a preponderance standard would symbolize that we as a society are comfortable with giving one group of women and girls, as well as men and boys who are gender-minorities and victimized because of it, unequal treatment when compared to everyone else.

In a footnote on this passage, Cantalupo notes:

Research shows that the majority of higher education institutions had voluntarily adopted a preponderance of the evidence standard for all student conduct proceedings by the early 2000s. See Michelle J. Anderson, Sexual The Legacy of the Prompt Complaint Requirement, Corroboration Requirement, and Cautionary Instructions on Campus Assault, 84 B.U. L. Rev. 945, 1000 (2004); Heather M. Karjane et al., Campus Sexual Assault: How America’s Institutions of Higher Education Respond 122 tbl.6.12 (2002), http://www.hhd.org/sites/hhd.org/files/mso44.pdf  [http://perma.cc/9Z57-PHR5]. Therefore, using a different standard from the preponderance standard in cases involving sexual or other forms of gender-based violence would mean that student victims of gender-based violence would be less protected than students who are victimized by another student in any other way.

Now, Geoffrey Stone has argued against the preponderance standard as follows (emphasis mine):

To justify its insistence on the preponderance of the evidence standard, the Department of Education draws an analogy to civil actions in court. In the typical civil law suit for damages, whether the issue is a car accident, a breach of contract, or an assault, the standard is preponderance of the evidence. But this is a bad analogy. For a college or university to expel a student for sexual assault is a matter of grave consequence both for the institution and for the student. Such an expulsion will haunt the students for the rest of his days, especially in the world of the Internet. Indeed, it may well destroy his chosen career prospects. This is especially likely, for example, for law students.

To the extent that analogy between internal Title IX complaints at an educational institution and action in courts is apt (there is a substantive difference in that what happens in court is thereby public record), the analogy to civil action is far more apt than an analogy to criminal proceedings. In addition to the fact that in criminal cases it is the state, and not the alleged victim, who is party to the proceedings, as Stone writes, civil law adjudicated by a preponderance of the evidence standard provides relief for assault. Again, from the National Women’s Law Center:

The preponderance of the evidence standard is appropriate even in cases where there could be criminal sanctions for the defendant’s actions. For example, it is used in civil proceedings between two private parties, where—like a campus grievance proceeding for a complaint of sexual harassment—each party “has an extremely important, but nevertheless relatively equal, interest in the outcome.” This includes civil proceedings arising out of conduct that can also be criminal, but where there is no authority to impose criminal sanctions, such as a civil tort action for battery, robbery, or murder.

This goes, too, for civil cases regarding sexual violence. For instance, cases brought under California Civil Code Section 52.4, or Illinois’ Gender Violence Act.

Of course, Stone is right that expulsion may haunt a student. We should absolutely take that seriously, and I do. At the same time, let’s not forget how many students are expelled for infractions like plagiarism as compared to sexual assault; let’s not forget having been subject to sexual violence may haunt a victim; let’s not forget that being subject to sexual discrimination (including sexual harassment and assault) might, and in a number of cases has, destroyed victims’ chosen career prospects; let’s not forget that victims are often forced to transfer schools, or drop out; let’s not forget that victims have also been dragged through the nasty trenches of the internet, nor that some have been driven to suicide as a result. Moreover, let’s not forget that it is exactly these kinds of effects that educational institutions are legally obligated to address insofar as they impact one’s access to education; that is, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Title IX: (Some of) What the AAUP Left Out (Updated)

The AAUP recently released a report on Title IX for a comment period (summary version here). There are two points in particular where it appears as if myth and speculation are presented under the guise of fact, and I think it’s incredibly important for the academic community to be clear on where things actually stand.

First, from the AAUP’s report on the issue of the Office for Civil Rights’ interpretation of Title IX as requiring sexual discrimination complaints be adjudicated according to a preponderance of the evidence standard:

OCR’s 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) went further, mandating an evidentiary standard that conflicts with due process protections of faculty and students. In a shift of enormous significance the DCL prohibited the use of the standard calling for “clear and convincing” evidence (highly probable or reasonably certain), and replaced it with a lower standard: that there need be no more than a “preponderance of evidence” (more likely than not) to assess sexual violence claims and all sexual harassment claims. The DCL explicitly noted that university procedures using a “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard were “not equitable under Title IX.” Although it marked a substantial change in procedures, OCR did not engage in the federal administration rulemaking public notice and comment process prior to issuing this 2011 DCL. The “preponderance of evidence” standard is a new mandate, however, even though the OCR describes the DCL only as a clarification of its 1997 and 2001 Guidances, which had followed federal rulemaking requirements.

The OCR has done more than merely “describe” the 2011 DCL letter as a clarification, though. Rather, Catherine Lhamon explained why the OCR believes the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter was not a substantial change of procedure as follows:

The standards outlined in the 2011 DCL stem from the Department’s Title IX regulations, including but not limited to, the requirement that educational institutions adopt “grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution” of complaints. Prior to the 2011 DCL, OCR had determined in letters of findings issued during multiple Administrations that in order for a recipient’s procedures to be “equitable,” they must use a preponderance of the evidence standard (i.e., more likely than not) to determine whether sexual violence has occurred. As OCR’s practice in these cases confirms, it is Title IX and the regulation, which has the force and effect of law, that OCR enforces, not OCR’s 2011 (or any other) DCL. OCR’s 2011 DCL simply serves to advise the public of the construction of the regulation it administers and enforces.

But, more to the point, if Title IX complaints were held to a higher standard than a preponderance of the evidence when other civil rights claims are adjudicated by exactly that standard, then it would follow that complainants would be held to a higher standard, i.e., disadvantaged, on the basis of sex, i.e., they would be subject to sexual discrimination.

Why are civil rights claims adjudicated by a preponderance of the evidence standard? Nancy Cantalupo explains:

Read More »

Thoughts from an assault survivor in philosophy

An anonymous guest post:

 

Over the last few years, the the philosophical community has begun to take public notice of sexual harassment and abuse in our profession. On the whole, this is A Good Thing: It’s hard to address as a profession a problem we pretend doesn’t exist.

 

But, as is so often the case when the topic of the abuse of women is raised, not all of these discussions have been constructive. There has been a lot of skeptical speculation: “The allegations can’t be true because Professor is clever, well-educated—he’s too smart to put himself at risk”, “they can’t be true because he’s too good-looking, too well-situated in life. Why would he harass someone, rape someone? He must meet loads of interested women”, “the alleged victim has a boyfriend, a husband—she’s lying to cover up a consensual relationship”, “she’s probably just mad he dumped her”, “the alleged victim didn’t complain to the university right away, didn’t call the police—a real victim would never do that”, “I know Professor; he’s a good guy. He would never do a thing like that; if he had, I would have known, there would have been some sign”, and on, and on.

 

Listening to these discussions, online, on the various blogs and on facebook, at conferences and other professional/social events, I often find myself wondering what impression such speculation makes on victims, who are there among us, whether we know it or not. My speculation, though, isn’t entirely idle. You see, I am a professional philosopher, a senior woman. And when I was in grad school, I was raped by another philosopher.

 

For the survivors:

 

The single, most important thing for you to know is it gets better. I remember quite well the aftermath; the feeling of unreality, as if you aren’t quite fully connected to your body. And the feeling of incredible fragility, as if brushing up against another object would cause you to shatter into small pieces. I remember the confusion, the unwillingness to accept that this is something that really happened to you because….well, how could that happen to you? How could another human being do this to you, torture you for his sexual pleasure? And the months of brain fog, the insomnia, the sudden bouts of paralyzing anxiety. The bizarre feeling of deep shame that makes no sense. I remember.

 

It seems like it will never end. But I promise you, I PROMISE you, it gets better. The fog will lift. You will think again. And, if you choose, you will be a philosopher again. I count myself as a moderately successful philosopher; I am in a research-oriented department; I love my colleagues; they are generous and kind. And I love what I do; I love my students and I love my work. And there are many others out there just like me. We’re aren’t particularly heroic, we don’t have special abilities, we don’t have super strength. But we made it through this. Victims can make it through this.

In saying this, that recovery is absolutely possible, I do not mean to suggest that it is easy. Getting better can be hard work, work that is made a lot easier with the help of supportive friends and professionals. If you continue to have trouble with anxiety, depression, or insomnia, please seek the help of a professional who is trained to help survivors. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN, https://rainn.org/get-help/help-a-loved-one ) is a good place to start. Please, please take care of yourself.

 

For the speculators:

 

Gossip can be fun. I get that. I imagine a few folks in our profession enjoy gossip regardless of its consequences. But I’m betting most folks aren’t like this. Most of us, I imagine, would most like to put an end to the victimization of women in our discipline. And I bet most of us recognize that part of what is required to make that happen is for victims to come forward.

 

So, let me tell you what a rehearsal of the near-platitudes of dismissal I mentioned above sound like to survivors who are standing right there, I promise you, when you utter them or stand there quietly when you hear someone else do so. The translation is: “I very much doubt these allegations, despite the fact that I am not acquainted with the parties at all, don’t know the particulars, and don’t even have any idea who the complainant is. Nonetheless, I do not believe her.” When you do this, you make it rational for victims to hide. You want to know why a victim didn’t complain to the university, didn’t go to the police, or didn’t go right away? Review these conversations in your head and you have your answer. You, when you casually dismiss serious allegations or when you stand there silently while others do, demonstrate the pointlessness of speaking out. You are the reason victims do not advocate for themselves.

 

It is within our power to fix this problem. But we need to stand up, speak up. I hope that now you know, you do.

The Question of Rehabilitation and Resources in the Aftermath of Sexual Assault

[Discussion of sexual assault and it’s effects on people below.]
This past summer, Buzzfeed published a long-form article about Hanna Stotland, a lawyer who helps students accused of “sexual misconduct” re-apply to other universities. You can read it here.

In response to the article, Abby Woodhouse, a rape survivor, published an open letter. You can read it here.

There are two big issues that caught my attention from these articles:

(1) The way we culturally conceive of rape is often that it is either (a) an unforgivable, unintelligible act of evil, or (b) it’s not really rape, aka rape-rape, so it’s something like “gray rape” or “a mistake” or “an unfortunate miscommunication involving not-fully-consensual sex,”

I think the “unintelligibly” of committing rape is in one way a hindrance to seeking justice for those who experience it. In a way similar to how mass shooters are often portrayed as crazy and unintelligible, the sociopathic, evil rapist is not something we need to try to understand–thankfully. Because, if rape were a perfectly intelligible result of cultural suggestions that men’s value comes from their power of control and mastery over the world, and that a major reward for being powerful is entitlement to sex, (and that being a man is the best thing you could be),  well then, we are all awash in images and messages that condone rape, and we ourselves condone messages that are on a spectrum whose extreme ends in rape–so we are all potential rapists. There but for the grace of my blood alcohol levels go I.

What is really unintelligble to us, I think, is that the word of a woman, the way that a single woman perceives and experiences an event, could be the arbiter of whether another human deserves to be ostracized or punished.
A woman having that much authority in the world? Talk about inconceivable. The poor souls who would be subjected to such standards of ‘justice’…

…which leads me to a second major issue:

(2) It is striking that there often seems to be more resources and public empathy available for those who are accused of committing sexual assault than there is for those who experience it.

I myself feel the tug on my heartstrings when I hear a story about a young man who may have been falsely accused of a crime, and he contemplates how many less opportunities he may now have in life.

I feel more numb when I read Abby Woodhouse’s account of the “trauma and pain” that she has been left to deal with. We are often asked to consider what it would be like for a single mistake to potentially ruin a young person’s chances at a normal, happy life. We are rarely asked to consider what it would be like to not have not made any mistake, but being made to live potentially with haunting memories, broken trust in your fellow human beings, and an inescapable sense of feeling wholly unsafe in your own skin.

Stotland makes a valid point that, unless we think a person should suffer social death when they commit sexual assault, we need to figure out what the process should look like for reincorporating them into higher education.

But a sad and shameful aspect of this story is that survivors of rape and sexual assault also struggle with various degrees of social death. Many struggle to stay in school, stay connected with their families and social circles, etc. due to the effects of PTSD, depression, unshakable feelings of shame, and our deep cultural insensitivity to those who are brazen enough to be taken advantage of and insist on reminding us it–reminding us of their vulnerability (and ours) with their presence.
There but for the grace of the skirt I wear go I.

So where are the counselors to help them switch schools or rebuild their resume? Why is that not something that we prioritize?

Race and Stubblefield

Shelley Tremain at Discrimination and Disadvantage offers an interesting and disturbing analysis of the discussion surrounding the Stubblefield case, which draws on Tommy Curry’s work on the sexual assault of black men by white women, and the black male disabled body.

Over the past several days, I have thought about the Robinson trial and Curry’s pathbreaking work in light of the verdict in the trial of Anna Stubblefield. In the discussions about the trial and its outcome that have ensued on blogs, listservs, and Facebook, virtually no mention has been made of the fact that Stubblefield is white and the victim is African American. Thus, I think that among the questions that ought to be asked are these: How has race configured the reception of, and responses to, the verdict within the feminist philosophical community and within the disability studies community? In what ways have race and class conditioned the credibility deficit that disability studies scholars have implicitly and explicitly conferred upon the mother and brother of the victim? How has the hyper-sexualization of black men conditioned the reception of Stubblefield’s testimony and the verdict, as well as responses to them? Why have some white feminist philosophers found it “impossible” to believe that a white nondisabled woman repeatedly sexually assaulted a disabled black man? There is a mountain of evidence that demonstrates the prevalence of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of disabled people by nondisabled people. As Curry’s careful research shows, furthermore, the sexual and physical assault of black men by white women has a long history in the U.S. (and elsewhere) and is well documented, if one bothers to look. Why have “facilitated communication” and its white facilitator, Anna Stubblefield, been effectively rendered the victims of the real victim’s black family? Has the stubborn preoccupation with the alleged merits of a discredited technique actually concealed the white skin privilege and class privilege that continue to shape the fields of disability studies and feminist philosophy?

You can read the whole piece here.

I’ve closed comments here, but you can join in the discussion by following the link above.

Why Prison Rape Goes On

Chandra Bozelko, a former inmate, has an op-ed in the New York Times titled, ‘Why We Let Prison Rape Go On,’ in which she explores why, even 12 year since the Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed, sexual assault in American prisons remains so widespread.

Ultimately, prisons protect rape culture to protect themselves. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about half of prison sexual assault complaints in 2011 were filed against staff. (These reports weren’t all claims of forcible rape; it is considered statutory sexual assault for a guard to have sexual contact with an inmate.)

I was an inmate for six years in Connecticut after being convicted of identity fraud, among other charges. From what I saw, the same small group of guards preyed on inmates again and again, yet never faced discipline. They were protected by prison guard unions, one of the strongest forces in American labor.

Sexualized violence is often used as a tool to subdue inmates whom guards see as upstarts. In May 2008, while in a restricted housing unit, or “the SHU” as it is commonly known, I was sexually assaulted by a guard. The first person I reported the incident to, another guard, ignored it. I finally reached a nurse who reported it to a senior officer.

When the state police arrived, I decided not to talk to them because the harassment I’d received in the intervening hours made me fearful. For the same reason, I refused medical treatment when I was taken to a local emergency room.

Subsequent interviews with officials at the prison amounted to hazing and harassment. They accused me of having been a drug user, which was untrue, and of lying about going to college, though it was true I had. The “investigation,” which I found more traumatic than the assault, dragged on for more than two months until they determined that my allegation couldn’t be substantiated. The law’s guidelines were followed, but in letter not in spirit.

I was also a witness in a case in which an inmate claimed to have been sexually assaulted by a guard and then told me she’d made it up. I reported her — and this time, I was perfectly credible to an investigator, who praised me for having a conscience and a clear head.

The Justice Department estimates that the total bill to society for prison rape and sexual abuse is as high as $51.9 billion per year, including the costs of victims’ compensation and increased recidivism. If states refuse to implement the law when the fiscal benefit is so obvious, something larger is at stake.

Rape and murder are not natural disasters, but saying so can get you arrested.

Valentine’s day in Mersin, in the South East of Turkey, was marked by the funeral of a 20 year old student, Ozgecan Aslan, whose body has been found stabbed and burned after she was missing for three days. Ozgecan had been attacked by the driver of her bus, his father and friend, when she was coming home from her college in the neighboring town of Adana. She was last on the line and reportedly .

Women in Mersin attended her funeral en masse, defying the officiating imam, and an age old tradition forbidding women from approaching the grave or carrying the coffin. Big protests were held in Ankara and Istanbul the next day urging the government not to treat violence against women as inevitable, but to respond with tougher sentences, and stop blaming women for provoking men into rape, or dismissing the crime because there is no ‘observable psychological damage’.

The police intervened, blocking off the protesters’ march, and so far, five women have been arrested.

Sexual Assault & Students with a Disability

“The hidden victims of campus sexual assault: Students with disabilities”

“Even Gallaudet University, designed specifically for deaf students, can get it wrong when it comes to rape”

“Nationally, research has shown that individuals with disabilities experience sexual assault at significantly higher rates than the general population and that they also face critical gaps in services when they seek help for abuse. At the same time, experts say, schools have yet to adequately assess or address the issue on their campuses. “

“Al Jazeera America’s six-month investigation into sexual violence at Gallaudet — which included interviews with a dozen current or former students who say they were sexually assaulted, senior Gallaudet administrators, Title IX and disability experts, and an analysis of the university’s judicial board actions — reveals that even a school explicitly designed for students with disabilities can struggle in dealing with sexual assault.”

One story:

“Melissa thought his [Mike’s] behavior was creepy, and she reported him to Gallaudet’s Department of Public Safety. Since he wasn’t a student, she hoped DPS would bar Mike from campus. Instead, she says, the DPS officer she met with didn’t take her seriously: “He was sort of casual.” He started asking Melissa questions about her blindness, she says, and whether she could really know if she was being stalked. “If you couldn’t see him,” Melissa says the officer asked her, “how do you know it was Mike stalking you, and not someone else?”

“Yes, she was blind, but Melissa had other ways of identifying people, she insisted. She gave the officer details about the roughness of his hands when he signed to her, the things he said to her, and even offered to show him his Facebook profile picture. But without visual identification, Melissa says, the DPS officer told her there was no way they could pursue the claim or bar Mike.”

Another story:

“The two women, whose names and some identifying features have been changed, began dating. But within a month and a half, Alma says, their relationship took a turn. It began with a light punch. As a survivor of abuse growing up, Alma told Lisa the punch triggered bad memories.

Alma says Lisa suggested that it was playful and described growing up in a difficult home. Feeling guilty, Alma scolded herself for not being sensitive enough.

But over the course of their five-and-a-half-month relationship, the abuse escalated, she says. If Lisa felt Alma spoke too loudly, she would pinch her. And when Alma reacted, she says, Lisa would snap, “Oh my God, do you know how awful you sound?”

Alma had no idea what her voice sounded like, but she did know that the fastest way to disempower her was to demean the way she spoke. “The verbal insults became the root of the relationship,” Alma recalls. “Before I knew it, I was getting in trouble for talking to my friends.” [It gets worse.]

“But the worst part, she says, were the questions the other officer asked her.

““Are you sure you were raped?”

““You call that rape?”

““Do you know what the definition of ‘rape’ is?””

On how the university handles sexual assault:

“in October, an article in the university’s newspaper told an unnamed survivor’s account of why she didn’t report assault. “It had nothing to do with how the university would handle it,” the piece began. “But it had everything to do with me being embarrassed.” Later, it continued, “I’ve seen how Gallaudet has improved in how they handle sexual assault and rape cases, and I have faith in how they run the system.” But while the university was being defended by its students, it was also trying to block the reporting that led to this article. During this investigation, Gallaudet, and representatives from a communications firm it hired, reached out to Al Jazeera America on several occasions to express concern about contacting sources for this story.

““We’ve all been dismissed as being the exception individually, even by people who are sympathetic and open to listening to our story,” explains one student who says she was groped by an unknown assailant one night. “People don’t want to see it as common [because] it’s scary. For one, it means it can happen to them. It also means admitting there is something wrong with a system they are a part of … Gallaudet is such a safe place in other ways, nobody wants to admit that there is an ugly underbelly.”” -Alma