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Campus has weak sexual assault policy

Published: Thursday, April 23, 2009

Updated: Thursday, April 23, 2009 07:04

Their statements were so outrageous that they begged disbelief. The students told me that Tufts routinely sends alleged rape victims and their attackers into mediation instead of investigating the crime. Students said the university's sexual assault policy is so vague that it doesn't even define sexual assault. One victim told me how the Judicial Affairs Committee drilled her on what she was wearing the night she was attacked.

Here? At Tufts? How could this be possible? I just completed my master's thesis on violence against women in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco. I've been designing policies to protect destitute and marginalized women from harm in faraway countries. How could I fail to notice that my own university has been placing me in danger all along?

Yes, Tufts is obligated to protect women. It's called Title IX, and it was promulgated to assure women equal access to education. Rape victims are disproportionately women; college campuses are, by default, more dangerous for women than men. Being afraid of rape or being a victim of sexual violence prevents women from fully benefiting from their education. One student said to me, "After I was raped, I stopped going to classes because I was too afraid to leave my apartment." She failed out that semester and is still recovering. Title IX requires that schools mitigate the hostile environment by establishing strong sexual assault policies.

But Tufts' sexual assault policy is criminally negligent. It doesn't tell a crime victim how to get help after she's been attacked. It doesn't explain procedures for reporting a complaint or disciplining attackers. It doesn't even tell a victim how to get access to an evidence collection kit -- critical information for prosecuting rapists. Some of this information is scattered haphazardly across Tufts' Web site. Why should a traumatized and terrified rape victim have to connect the dots?

According to the policy, a sexual assault victim can call the dean of students to report a rape. But how can the dean help her, since the office is only open during business hours? Rapists don't typically strike between 9 and 5.

What's worse, Tufts does not conduct investigations of sexual assault complaints, which is a flagrant violation of Title IX. Universities have been found to be in violation of Title IX when they place the burden of proof on the student as opposed to investigating the crime and reporting to a disciplinary hearing. Universities are legally required to do this in a timely manner in order to prevent the campus from becoming a hostile environment.

Two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from the Office of the Dean of Students about an alleged racial incident on campus. It made me wonder: Why haven't I seen an e-mail like this from the last time a student was raped? Does the physical integrity of our students matter? Why isn't the university outraged that so many female members of the Tufts community are being attacked on a regular basis?

One in four college women will be raped by the time they graduate. This campus is no exception. Rape happens at Tufts.

Correcting this very grave situation is perfectly straightforward. The university policy should be scrapped altogether and then redrawn based on student input. Tufts needs a real sexual assault policy that contains a clear definition of sexual assault, articulates the disciplinary process, promises equal treatment for victims (despite sexual orientation, race, sex, etc.), includes oversight, establishes meaningful prevention and education, provides 24-hour access to services for survivors and offers free long-term counseling. The current policy does none of these things.

I don't want to graduate from a university that inexcusably places students in danger. It's time to take sexual assault policy seriously. It's time for Tufts to comply with Title IX.


Cybèle Cochran is a student at the Fletcher School majoring in International Relations.

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17 comments Log in to Comment

Thu Apr 30 2009 05:36
A little over a 1/3 of of the women I've dated have admitted to being raped. Not to say this is scientific proof (perhaps I attract a certain personality type). Its a really sad and alarming statistic. Half of those happened with people they knew in school or at work. Most went unreported. Police can often only go so far to prove rape. In one case, she was drugged at a bar and brought back to her home. The police township totally botched the material evidence handling yielding no positive test results. Even if they did, what could the police prove other than sex occurred. When all legal avenues have been exhausted. There's a time for Bernie Goetz' subway street justice.
Ben H
Mon Apr 27 2009 07:33
Really? I don't see what other statement the author could be saying tufts is not an exception to. "One in four college women will be raped by the time they graduate. This campus is no exception." Clearly means that approximately one fourth of women at tufts are raped by the time they graduate, thus tufts is not an exception to the 1/4 rape rule.

I did not mean to suggest that the author believed all campuses have exactly the same rape percentages, only that she believed them to be very similar.

I have made no statements denying or affirming that we need a change in policy, I have only commented on the shakiness of the statistics being used.

Sun Apr 26 2009 22:00
I think the statement "Tufts is no exception" doesn't mean that every single college has identical sexual assault rates. Rather, it's making the point that rape happens here and there isn't enough being done to inform and support students- our policy is two sentences and a list of phone numbers. The entire student body knows about an attempted break-in, but even if assault is reported we don't hear about students preying upon each other. I had no idea that sexual assault was handled exactly the same way as plagarism, and frankly I'm appalled.
Fri Apr 24 2009 13:38
hahahahahahahahha i love how someone used dukes rape policy as a great example, when just a year or two ago they wrongly accused 5 white male (hmmmm.....) lacrosse players of rape, and successfully managed to rob them of their educations, athletic careers, and futures. of course, thats exactly what tufts would love to do, right?

also, no means maybe.

Ben H.
Fri Apr 24 2009 02:36
"One in four college women will be raped by the time they graduate."
I believe this statistic to be inaccurate. Even the study which started "one in four" does not claim that one in four college women will be raped before they graduate.

"This campus is no exception."
You think there is no variance in rape percentages across colleges? I am not certain that there aren't any statistics like this, but it seems outrageously counter-intuitive. None of the variables that change across colleges affect the likelihood of rape? What sources are you using?

Concerned Reader
Thu Apr 23 2009 21:23
Tuft's sexual assault policy is a travesty. For an example of a really strong, well-defined policy, check out Duke University's: .
Your name
Thu Apr 23 2009 18:56
Tufts' laissez-faire attitude toward many issues that any institution that aspires for greatness in the 21st century should directlly address is abhorrent and greatly troubling.
Your name
Thu Apr 23 2009 18:13
I completely agree with this student--the only reason why I myself have felt safe on campus is because I am street-smart and stay in well-lit or populated areas when walking at night...I have had a friend here who was raped and many others who have been threatened or been in frightening situations. Then again, TUPD and our other resources can only do so much and there's bound to be problems, so the question is finding a balance to the situation.
I agree
Thu Apr 23 2009 17:39
I agree with Ricki. This institution claims to be so "aware" and "forward" in human rights matters, yet they continually violate them year after year. I hope that the administration will work with the students to create a policy and environment that gives everyone an equal opportunity.
Ricki Jo
Thu Apr 23 2009 14:49
The fact that this is an ongoing problem is not surprising, but it is alarming. At an institute that exists to educate they have failed in educating their students about basic human decency. And they reenforce the notion that rape is acceptable by not enforcing the laws that should help to protect victims. Education in any form has the potential to be a force for social reform. Let's hope that Tufts decides to take on the challenge to be a leader in protecting human rights.
Zoë Barth-Werb
Thu Apr 23 2009 14:26
Sexual Violence Community Forum
Metcalf Hall Lounge
Tonight @ 7

Students and Staff members are coming together to meet with the administration to talk and ask questions about sexual violence in the Tufts community. We invite everyone to come out and participate in this important discussion that can build the foundation for an improved sexual assault policy and an improved response to sexual violence at Tufts.

Thu Apr 23 2009 14:07
thank you for writing such an important op-ed. tufts is failing on so many levels.
Your name
Thu Apr 23 2009 12:32
Is there any link to statistics of sexual assaults at Tufts? I'd like to see. Now I'm scared...
Your name
Thu Apr 23 2009 11:32
Cybele, you're awesome. Thanks so much for writing this.
Thu Apr 23 2009 11:22
Police do deal with sexual assault. However, police have to conduct long investigations and wait months for a charge to come to trial. It generally takes at least a year. In the meantime, a survivor may be stuck going to class and living in the same dorm with the perpetrator. Because campuses are unique communities, schools are legally obligated to take swifter action than police can. In addition, many survivors simply don't want to go to the police because they are so traumatized. Sixty percent of sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement.
Your name
Thu Apr 23 2009 09:55
I agree completely. Thank you for writing this important piece.
Your name
Thu Apr 23 2009 09:47
Why not let police and hospitals deal with these things?

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