Seeking justice for sexual assault, especially campus assaults, is an uphill battle fraught with obstacles for survivors. Their judgment, behavior, clothing choices and alcohol consumption are often paraded as reasons to cast doubt on their allegations, while society quietly tolerates perpetrators. In so many cases, it becomes a “he said/she said” scenario. But what happens when there is video evidence of a sexual assault?
For three students at James Madison University — my alma mater — who assaulted a classmate during Spring Break in 2013, filmed it and shared the video widely, it means they still get off the hook.
I was dismayed and appalled to read that the very institution responsible for guiding my higher education goals and achievements handed down a so-called punishment of “expulsion after graduation” to these offenders. Yes, two of the individuals got to graduate on time. The third will remain on campus to complete his education, while the girl who was assaulted withdrew.
The Huffington Post shared these details:
Butters was in Florida during Spring Break 2013, when the assault took place, drinking with the three men, who she said she considered trusted friends. While still in Florida, she said she learned of the video and confronted the men, who denied it. Once she returned to campus, she said she found that the video was being shared and discussed on an online gossip forum. Eventually, she got a copy.
The video shows Butters topless and being groped, while the men laugh and pull her onto their laps, trying to remove the bottom of her bathing suit. It includes audio of Butters saying, “This isn’t okay, this isn’t a good idea.”
Ms. Butters bravely filed a formal complaint with JMU’s administration, and following a series of hearings, the three men received their laughable “punishment.” However, under the duress of the adjudication process, Ms. Butters’ grades slipped, she lost financial aid and had to withdraw from her studies.
JMU’s egregious mishandling of this case is but one example of the nationwide campus rape phenomenon that has prompted federal investigations of 63 universities for Title IX violations. JMU is — rightly so — now one of them.
To expel these students after graduation is absolutely meaningless. The assailants still receive their education and diplomas, which will help them gain entry into the workforce, earn a living and continue with their lives. JMU’s decision sends a dangerous message — to students, their parents, alumni, faculty and the Harrisonburg, VA. community at large — that sexual assault is not only tolerated, but condoned. How else do you explain letting the third offender remain on campus? As for the other two, so what if they can’t tailgate at Homecoming next Fall? This smacks of a deeply embedded rape culture and “boys will be boys” mentality, deserving of a complete overhaul of JMU’s administration.
I applaud Ms. Butters for pursuing justice, even though she failed to receive any. By sharing her story, she is helping erase the stigma of sexual assault — which lies not with the victims, but solely with perpetrators. She has also done the public a favor; with JMU now under federal scrutiny as a direct result of her complaint, the university is publicly flagged as a problematic institution and will have to start answering for its handling of sexual assault. It will hopefully make potential future students think twice about applying there and alum to reconsider providing continued financial support.