Sexual Assault Policy and the Urgency of Now

Sixteen students from Yale University lodged a complaint with the United States Office of Civil Rights. “Inadequate response to a long trend of public sexual harassment” bred an environment hostile to the campus’ women—a campus that is not very different in history or experience from our own. The U.S. government could determine this to be a violation of Title IX, the legislation that states, “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” The stakes for Yale University were high. Not only was their reputation on the line, but worse for them, they could lose the majority of their federal funding.

In the wake of this nationally reported lawsuit, the Office of Civil Rights sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter to universities around the nation, reminding them of their responsibility to create a safe environment for learning for all students—female and male. The explicit re-delineation of expectations by the government would mean trouble for these schools if they were caught slacking: Title IX federal funding could be revoked.

“Sexual activity requires consent, which is defined as clear, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity. Consent cannot be inferred from the absence of a “no”; a clear “yes,” verbal or otherwise, is necessary.” This is the revision by Yale. This is a necessary revision that was made as late as April of last year.  This is the revision that had to be pre-empted by the threat of legal governmental action to be implemented. This is the sexual assault policy that finally leaves no room to give perpetrators the “benefit of the doubt.”

Contrast this: “Rape includes any act of sexual intercourse that takes place against a person’s will or that is accompanied by physical coercion or the threat of bodily injury. Unwillingness may be expressed verbally or physically.” This definition of rape, in all its negative connotations, is the definition provided in the Harvard College Faculty of Arts and Sciences Policy Statement on Rape, Sexual Assault, and Other Sexual Misconduct. This is the definition for the school where only seven sexual assault cases have been presented to the Ad Board in the past five years, while an average of one hundred and twenty-five have officially been recorded. This is the definition that most often leads the Administrative Board towards a “take no action” ruling because of the specificities of its language.

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