Inexcusably lax attitudes at the University of Southern California and Occidental College toward an epidemic of sexual assaults on the campuses are bad enough.
But given the intense scrutiny these two excellent and otherwise dissimilar Los Angeles schools have been under, you would think that administrators would be extra-vigilant about the legally required reporting of such crimes.
Nope. Despite outrage by students, faculty and the public, Oxy and USC officials admit the opposite is the case. USC failed to report to the Department of Education 13 sexual assaults in 2010 and 2011, bringing the university's total to 39 assaults for those years. While Occidental is much smaller — 2,100 students to USC's 38,000 — its failure to report 24 assaults during the same period brings its total to 36, very nearly as many sex crimes at its leafy Eagle Rock enclave as on and near the giant campus downtown.
What a disastrous atmosphere for women students, and what a failure by those who are supposed to protect them.
Beyond that, like most things in life, it gets complicated. What we are dealing with here is not the kind of scenario most people think of concerning sex crimes: stranger rape, an assailant lurking in the bushes. In almost all cases, the sexual assaults involve campus or campus-area parties among acquaintances. In almost all of them, alcohol is involved.
But to thereby excuse the crimes as inevitable, or no one's fault, or to say that during young people's college years it was ever thus, would be akin to excusing other crimes that once were acceptable by some — lynching, say — in the slightly more enlightened world we live in today.
Rape is rape. No means no. Sexual assault of an inebriated person unable to make rational decisions is against the law, not to mention any moral person's sense of decency.
And the fact is, according to a leader in the fight for campus safety at Occidental, politics professor Caroline Heldman, small, residential colleges such as Oxy are magnets for the young men who commit most of the “date rape” or “party rape” crimes in question. “Three to 4 percent of college men are perpetrating over 90 percent of sexual assaults,” Heldman said in an interview with the editorial board. “They rape an average of four times” in their college years. It's precisely because of the seemingly safe atmosphere of residential colleges, where most students live on or near campus and where academic life extends to social life, that the predators are drawn to them, Heldman said. Consequently, such “colleges have an additional obligation because of this” to both promote a safe atmosphere and, when assaults happen, fully report them so that other women are warned, Heldman said.
So what's been the administration's attitude toward the danger of sexual assault at Occidental? “We've been working on it for six years, and we've been getting a lot of little-girling and glad-handing,” Heldman said.
Today's college presidents, with a primary focus on fundraising, are clearly afraid of being known as a safe haven for rapists. Campus activists at USC and Oxy say that's why they both under-report assaults and are trying to narrow the geographic area from which they report. At USC, instead of reporting assaults to counselors, students now must take them to campus safety officials for federal reporting.
This epidemic won't be cured by defensiveness and worry about alumni relations. College officials must more fully ensure student safety and stop protecting campus rapists.