NORTH ADAMS -- That Lexie Brackenridge was sexually assaulted by a member of the Williams men's hockey team is not up for dispute, since the school saw fit to punish the rapist with suspension. The problem is that colleges are expected to help their students feel safe. In the case of Brackenridge, consideration was given her rapist's future that caused her to leave campus for her own mental and physical well-being, the opposite of what a college should do, never mind the harassment from other students that Brackenridge reports.
If this were an isolated case, I would be completely appalled, but this happens at Williams and other colleges with alarming consistency. Alumnus Anne Lindsay Fetter stepped forward with her own tale of horror in the ‘80s, a gang rape that she felt more punished for than the rapists.
I have a friend with a more recent experience with the way the college handles such allegations. She told me her experience after the sexual assault by a Williams student was similar, and she ended up pressing charges in the hopes of getting something, anything, done to properly address the crime. Since she has gone through that, she's had three other women come forward who say they did not report sexual assaults by Williams students because they had no confidence in the college handling the situation correctly.
Brackenridge mentions three other women in the same position.
Brackenridge's parents are protesting his return, fearing that the culture at the college will allow for another rape from the assailant and promote the silence of victims.
Williams estimates there are 50 sexual assaults on campus every year. How many of those will hold back on reporting the crimes? Of those who do, how many will be frustrated by punishment that takes their rapists' feelings into account?
This is what they call rape culture. It is real and it is insidious. For many victims, the experience becomes akin to being raped all over again. By convincing victims to not report the crimes against them, it promotes a culture of silence, allowing predators to run free. Bravo, rape culture, well played.
One in five women in college will be raped, and the poor handling of these situations happens all the time. Two words: Duke University. But it's everywhere else, too.
The University of Missouri covered up a 2010 rape by one of its football players.
A case at Occidental College in Los Angeles saw a student found guilty of rape, expelled, expulsion reduced to suspension.
A group of students at Columbia University, where Brackenridge has taken refuge, filed a federal suit in regard to that college's mishandling of sexual assault cases. A similar action has been pursued by students at Harvard.
President Obama has clarified that these are not isolated incidents, but part of a culture of systematic cruelty within colleges. He set up the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, which recently acknowledged Tufts University as an institution that doesn't comply with guidelines for handling rape.
Williams College has one fact it can console itself with -- it's not singularly sinister in failing rape victims. And there's nothing abnormal about its handling of the Brackenridge case when you start looking at the bigger picture.
But that's not really good enough, is it?
Williams can rightly claim it did nothing technically wrong, but that doesn't make the situation right. It did acknowledge the wrongdoing, but acted as if there are two sides to every rape and doled out a slap on the wrist that would reverberate with future rape victims.
The damage has already been done. The message has been sent and the victims have received it. The only people who win are the rapists.