The Trinitonian’s editorial is supposed to reflect the thoughts and feelings of the newspaper’s editorial board. Most weeks, we accomplish this task with relative ease. How many differing opinions can we have on student involvement, racial diversity or Nelson Mandela’s death? Not many, as it would seem. However, sometimes in the Trinity community, events arise that are difficult to deal with. These events cause such opposing responses that it is difficult to combine them into one coherent column. Events that have occurred in the past week–and, in truth, much earlier than that–have caused a range of responses among the Trintonian staff and among the campus at large.
We are, of course, referring the circumstances surrounding Wednesday night’s Student Government Association Town Hall on the University Sexual Assault Policy. The town hall took place in the Fiesta Room, and for most of its two-hour duration, was standing room only. It featured a panel comprised of representatives from the Trinity University Police Department, Residential Life, Campus and Community Involvement, the University Conduct Board and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.
The panel spent two hours explaining university procedures and attempting to defend themselves against the mountain of unpleasant evidence dumped at their feet by frustrated students. The Trinitonian spent these two hours sinking deeper and deeper into a well of confusion and conflicting emotions. We will now attempt to climb out of that well.
One of the hardest factors to anticipate and respond to properly in the discussion about Trinity’s sexual assault policy involves the emotion this debate inspires. On all sides of this issue, emotion continually gets the better of people, and that is to be expected. Sexual assault is emotional. It’s traumatic, ugly and we would all be better off if it did not exist, but it does. Because it exists, we have to find a way to combat it without letting emotion cloud our judgement. When we become overly emotional about this topic, the discussion veers off track. It becomes unproductive. Arguments and points become less clear, and it’s hard to process all the different factors that influence sexual assault and sexual assault policy.
On the topic of influencing factors, it is important to remember that such things exist. There are a number of factors that directly influence the way Trinity, and every other college, can combat rape culture and address sexual assault in healthy, productive ways. The most important factor to keep in mind is the fact that Trinity is not a court of law. The University Conduct Board is not a courthouse. The students, faculty and staff present in these hearings are not judges, and they are not jurors. The standards that apply in a court of law are not identical to the standards that apply in a University Conduct Board hearing. They cannot convict attackers. They cannot sentence attackers.
Even in a court of law, prosecuting sexual assault cases is incredibly difficult. The statistics surrounding rape–who reports rape, who prosecutes rapes and who is held responsible for rape–are dismal on a good day and are downright depressing the rest of the time. An informational packet compiled by the University of Kentucky for a team of rape crisis and sexual violence advocates states that only 37% of reported rapes are prosecuted, and, of this 37%, only 18% result in a conviction. These statistics are the sad results of a multitude of factors and the primary factor is the lack of evidence available and the burden of proof faced by both prosecuting attorneys and jurors. Despite its truth, emotional evidence still does not carry the same weight that physical evidence carries. An article on Jezebel, the Internet home of consumable modern feminism, written by Anna North titled “Why A Rape Doesn’t Get Prosecuted” details, as you might suspect, the myriad reasons why district attorneys decline rape cases, be the cases from college campuses or communities at large. The article addresses the repulsive reality that, often times, “questionable” aspects of the defendant’s character will be yanked into the harsh courtroom light. Nothing is untouchable. Mental illness, past relationships, alcohol usage–all of it is fair game, and, unfortunately, it is a successful tactic in defending people accused of rape. Because of this continued failure of outside courts to convict rapists, it becomes even more vital for universities to provide an alternative option for justice seekers.
Trinity will never be able to take every assailant off the streets. In fact, they will never be able to take any assailants off the streets. However, they are capable, and, per the sexual assault policy webpage, determined to discipline students who violate other students. Trinity is capable of sending a message to attackers that sexual violence is not tolerable, and will result in immediate action.
All sides of this issue desire the same resolution: a change in a rape culture and victim blaming. We all want to change the way people think about rape, and we want people to be held accountable for their actions. In the coming weeks and months, as this discussion continues, it will be vitally important to remember that we are all on the same team, and we fight the same enemy.