Women are well aware of the methods used to keep them silent about rape: the justice system's reluctance to prosecute rapists, even when the evidence is overwhelming; the disbelief that survivors often face; and the insensitive and humiliating treatment women experience when they come forward.
All of these factors are compounded when rapes occur on college campuses because campus administrators and college police are determined to protect the image of their school—a safe campus image that will attract new students and more money. And that means administrators often discourage women from reporting rapes to local law enforcement, and either covertly handle as internal matters what should be criminal investigations or overtly punish women who speak out.
"College disciplinary boards have no business adjudicating rape cases. They should be turned over to the criminal justice system," argues NOW’s Executive Vice President Kim Gandy, a former prosecutor. "These boards do not have the training or the authority to be judges, and even if they should hold a student responsible, expulsion or suspension from college is hardly an appropriate punishment for the crime of rape."
In July 1996, Judge Jackson L. Kiser of the U.S. District Court of Western Virginia ruled in the Brzonkala case that the VAWA civil rights remedy was unconstitutional. (Kiser is the same judge who ruled that the Virginia Military Institute could remain all male—a ruling the Supreme Court overturned.) The judge also ruled against Brzonkala's Title IX claims. Julie Goldscheid, an attorney at the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, argued the appeal in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Kiser's ruling on the VAWA claims, but sent the Title IX claims back to the district court. A petition has been filed for the U.S. Supreme Court to review the VAWA civil rights remedy; their decision on whether or not to review the case should be made sometime this fall. The NOW Foundation has signed amicus briefs in the case, Brzonkala v. Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Federal courts in other states have upheld the constitutionality of VAWA's civil rights remedy.
On March 1, less than two days after the report was filed, the UPD arrested, handcuffed and took Lisa King to jail for "falsifying a police report." The UPD (and later the state attorney’s office) maintained that the video (edited by Delta Chi members) demonstrated consensual sex even though the word "rape" is chanted several times. King claimed that Yahraus said he would "break her neck" if she fought.
According to University of Florida/Santa Fe Community College (UF/SFCC) NOW chapter members who have seen the tape, it appears that King is being choked as Yahraus asks, "What do you want? Your circulation back?" The men titled their tape "The raping of a white-trash, crackhead bitch."
Smith had originally said that he would prosecute King and the fraternity members identified from the tape with "assignation for sex" and King for performing as an exotic dancer without a license. After pressure from the campus NOW chapter, Smith eventually said that he would not pursue false report charges because he did not want to discourage women from filing sexual assault reports.
In April, Smith allegedly offered to drop prostitution charges against King if she would sign a statement that she would not sue any law enforcement agency. King refused and in July, pled guilty to operating an escort service without a license in exchange for having prostitution and lewdness charges dropped; she received six months probation.
Smith’s office has never interviewed King and has reportedly done nothing about the rape charges. The press reported that Smith stated the evidence could not sustain a rape charge since King’s testimony was not reliable because she had consumed too much alcohol—an ironic claim since this would indicate that she was too incapacitated to give consent. The men were also inebriated, but were judged capable of clear recall.
UF/SFCC NOW has gathered nearly 3,000 signatures on petitions demanding that the state attorney’s office investigate the UPD’s handling of the case, that King receive a formal apology, and that UF hire more rape victim advocates and earmark more money for rape prevention and victim services. Four other women have complained to the chapter about Smith's mishandling of their rape cases, and the chapter has filed a complaint against Smith with the Florida Bar. The university's sole action has been to suspend the fraternity from campus for three years.
"By arresting Lisa, the police reminded us that when we come forward to report rape, not only will we not be believed, our character and behavior will be scrutinized in a sexist manner," comments UF/SFCC NOW chapter president Candi Churchill. "We may actually be arrested and humiliated like a criminal."
(See conference resolution "Fighting Campus Rapes." To keep up-to-date on this case, check out the web site www.mindspring.com/~krypto/DeltaChi.html).
Many thanks to Candi Churchill for her assistance with this article and to the University of Florida/Santa Fe Community College NOW chapter for their work to end sexual assault on campus. NOW recognizes the controversy surrounding the publishing of the names of rape victims. In the above two cases, the women’s names had previously become widely publicized.
Some good news: The Higher Education Act passed in 1998 provided funding for campus sexual assault prevention programs and to improve campus security. Schools risk financial fines for non-reporting or delinquent reporting of campus crime statistics. But advocates must be vigilant and expose colleges which are not in compliance with the reporting requirements.