The following piece, written by the editorial editors, reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.
The beginning of the semester marked a spike in reported sexual assaults at Miami, with five victims coming forward in the month of February alone. Most happened in dorms on campus, all on the weekends and all in the early hours of the morning. All the victims were female.
Meanwhile, the university is currently under federal investigation for what The Miami Student reported as “its handling of sexual assault cases.”
In a letter addressed to Miami President Gregory Crawford, the Ohio State Department of Higher Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) stated that Miami “failed to promptly and equitably respond to complaints, reports and/or incidents of sexual violence of which it had notice.” This, the student who filed the complaint said, encouraged a “sexually hostile environment” at the university.
This is a new development in an age-old yet complicated story: the story of sexual assaults on college campuses. Consistently with this topic, the same studies are cited, the same stories are told and the difficulty (and importance) in reporting more than the hard facts of each individual case lies in the notion that sexual assault happens in a pattern. Generally, the victim is assaulted, they are scrutinized by either the peers they confide in or their own previous beliefs, and then the report falls into the blackhole of university logistics and politics.
The pattern is predictable and its horror – and the difficulty of chronicling it in a way that will motivate already-disillusioned students into inciting change – lies in that. Indeed, according to the University of Kentucky Center for Research on Violence Against Women, only about 37 percent of rape cases ever get prosecuted, and only 18 percent of those end in conviction. More patterns: women who know their attacker are far less likely to report their case immediately after it happens, prosecutors typically take cases they can win, white victims typically get more cases prosecuted than victims of color and any data on rape cases is based solely on reported rapes, which are significantly fewer than rapes and sexual assaults that actually happen.
A break in the pattern happens when victims come forward against whole institutions, just as that student did earlier this year when they issued the report to the OCR against Miami. But it also doesn’t have to be that revolutionary. Nor should it have to start with the victim. It’s clear that the Miami community caught on to the toxic environment before it was brought under official investigation. The university trained counselors at the Student Counseling Center, strengthening its commitment to Title IX and implementing a Prevention Education Coordinator which will, in theory, stop sexual assault before it can start. But prevention efforts need to come from the community as well, and community input is – this cannot be overstated – extremely valuable.
The simple fact of the spike of reported sexual assaults in February likely means one of two things: first, there were simply more sexual assaults, or second, more victims were empowered to report them.
One way to move toward discovering which is more true is by participating in campus-wide feedback. Currently, Miami’s annual sexual assault survey is circulating in students’ emails, and the only way for Miami students and faculty to get a more accurate picture of the campus climate is by having its students take the time to answer the survey. While it’s true that victims and survivors shouldn’t have to relive their trauma, reporting assault is a way to prevent future assault on campus.
Take the time this week to answer that survey. It could mean a world of difference to future Miami students.