"Consent is Sexy" at Haverford: Not Yet

jmorgant's picture

I’d been working on another paper for this web event, one linking human rights abuses to sexual assault, and examining the relevance of transitional justice mechanisms. After the past three days, however, I feel compelled to share some of what’s been going on in my quest to build “right relationships” between people – students, administrators, faculty, and staff – on Haverford’s campus.

The Context: Rape and Sexual Assault at Haverford College

Haverford is mandated by the Clery Act to report crime statistics, including sex offenses. According to Haverford College’s 2011 Security & Fire Safety Report, there were reported 4 forcible sex offenses in 2008, 7 forcible sex offenses in 2009, and 8 forcible sex offenses in 2010. The same report listed 0 non-forcible sex offenses for the same years (but does not define how it distinguishes between forcible and non-forcible sex offenses).

(Source: 2011 Fire & Security Safety Report, Haverford College, 2011. Page 6.)

The Security Report goes on to acknowledge, “According to the U.S. Department of Justice, crimes of sexual assault are among the most underreported of all crimes. This is especially true on college and university campuses.” It continues, “Any reported rape or sexual assault will be treated confidentially with concern and sensitivity…All victims of campus crime are strongly encouraged to report the incident.”

Despite the administration’s supposed eagerness to address incidents of sexual assault on campus, they acknowledge that there are many barriers that may prevent a student from reporting an assault, citing, in their view, the three most common reasons:

  1. “Not clear of the legal definition for [sic] sexual assault and rape.
  2. Unaware of the resources available on and off campus.
  3. Unaware of victim’s basic rights.”

(Source: 2011 Fire & Security Safety Report, Haverford College, 2011. Page 14.)

The Argument: Haverford Re-Victimizes Survivors

While I’m sure that all three of these reasons play some role in survivors’ reluctance to come forward and seek support or justice following a sexual assault, it is my opinion that the complicity of the Haverford College administration is the main reason that Haverford students do not report an assault. Survivors fear re-victimization. I realize that this is a serious assertion, but I would not make these claims if I did not have empirical evidence to support it.

A Haverford student sexually assaulted another student – publicly – at a party. There were multiple witnesses. A dean’s panel was convened. The assailant faced no consequences. His father is an influential public figure.

Another Haverford student was raped by her peer. Upon reporting the crime to the administration and arranging a dean’s panel, the survivor was sued by the perpetrator and coerced into signing a document saying she had made up the assault. The administration withdrew its involvement in the case. The assailant’s father is a powerful lawyer.

According to the Honor Council abstract records, the last time a Haverford student was separated or expelled for sexual misconduct was in the fall of 1997, when a Haverford student was separated for seven consecutive semesters after he sexually assaulted two different women on multiple occasions. The Panel Deliberations of the abstract – called “Albert, April and Wendy” – read, “The panel further reached consensus that: Albert engaged in sexual misconduct towards April. And, that by violating April's privacy and sense of personal safety and security, he also violated community standards of trust, concern, and respect. In regard to the incidents with Wendy, the Panel felt it explored all possible explanations. The members of the panel were convinced without a doubt that the events described by Wendy on the two nights in question had occurred. The Panel reached the following statement of violation: Albert sexually assaulted Wendy on two occasions. This behavior was not only devastating to Wendy, but also threatened the security of the community at large.”

(Source: “Past Abstracts,” Haverford College Honor Council. Haverford and Bryn Mawr students only can access the document here.)

At some unknown time, however, dean’s panels replaced Honor Council trials as the primary means of addressing sexual assaults at Haverford. Because the process is not transparent and abstracts are not released, it is difficult to ascertain exactly when was the last time that a Haverford student was separated or expelled for committing an act of sexual violence.

The Campaign: Consent is Sexy!

Haverford’s student-run support group, Survivors of Assault and Rape (SOAR), initiated a “Consent is Sexy” campaign during December of 2011 to raise awareness about rape and sexual assault on Haverford’s campus. This campaign is a response to many things, some of them individual personal reasons. However, I think that the participants would agree across the board that the campaign is a response to a perceived lack of education at Haverford regarding sexual assault, lack of knowledge or insensitivity by some members of the broader Haverford community (be that students, faculty, or staff), and reluctance of the administration to separate or expel perpetrators.

On the night of December first, 2011, SOAR members and other student supporters posted 750 yellow and orange fliers around campus. They proclaimed a variety of messages:

  • Dear Haverford, Consent is sexy. Love, SOAR
  • Consent. Just Do It.
  • When you asked if you could kiss me, I loved it.
  • Sexual assault can happen in public. Ask me if I want to dance.
  • What’s scarier than the stranger in a dark alley? The friend in your bedroom who won’t take no for an answer.
  • Just because you said you’re sorry, doesn’t mean you didn’t rape me.
  • My skirt may be short, my top may be low, but that doesn’t mean that I’m ready to go.
  • I had trust, concern, and respect for the person who assaulted me.
  • Just because I’m wearing a hot outfit, doesn’t make me hot for you.
  • Sexual assault. Not just a woman’s issue.
  • Hearing you say yes really turns me on.
  • My erection ≄ My consent
  • Don’t be afraid, I’m not made of glass, but get my permission before touching my ass.
  • Don’t tell me that I want it. Ask me how much.
  • I’m a victim of your language choice. I’m a survivor of my sexual assault.
  • If I won’t say “yes,” I’ll never say “YES, YES, OH GOD YES!”
  • Rape is not just an academic discussion to me.
  • One fish, two fish, red fish, keep your penis to yourself.
  • Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and if I want your vagina I’ll ask for it.
  • You signed the Honor Code, but you still assaulted me.
  • If you see something, say something. Be an active bystander.
  • Scholar. Athlete. Artist. Rapist. What are your extracurriculars?
  • YES! YES! YES! Real consent is enthusiastic
  • I was raped at Haverford. Let’s talk about it.
  • I see you at the DC, and I know you assaulted me. Do you?
  • I ♥ consensual sex!

Several of us also chalked major public spaces in campus, in front of the athletic center, the dining center, the senior dorms, and the main administrative building.

 

Reactions to the Campaign: Gratitude, Empowerment, and Re-Victimization

 

The fliers are meant to be thought provoking, to prompt discussion, to incite action. There have been a variety of responses. One suite in Lloyd, a senior dorm, removed all the posters that had been put up outside their dorm and edited it to reflect their true feelings. After they posted the new flier in their living room, this picture (the featured image of this post) appeared in a Haverford student’s Facebook album.

I think it speaks for itself.

Other students asserted the uncomfortable feeling they experienced seeing the word “RAPE” plastered around campus. Two male seniors told me that they felt personally targeted. A junior man and a senior woman separately inquired if the posters were in response to a specific recent incident. A sophomore man asked me if rapes are actually committed at Haverford. A senior woman questioned why it is so difficult to get perpetrators expelled from Haverford, since sexual assault is so clearly a serious violation of the Honor Code’s commitment to trust, concern, and respect. A staff member in the athletic department said he felt that Haverford athletes were being targeted. Numerous students said they felt empowered.

SOAR’s Consent is Sexy campaign is just the beginning of what I hope will be a revolution of sorts at Haverford College. We are demanding that the administration revamp the rape and sexual assault policies (SIGN THE PETITION); that students begin to think about consent and talk about sexual assault; that a culture of shame and silence convert into one of healing and empowerment for survivors.

For my final paper in this course, I will examine all the Honor Council abstracts in the College’s records in order to determine how instances of rape and sexual assault were addressed in the past. I will interview several of the deans to clarify when a Haverford student was last separated or expelled for a sexual assault, when and why there was a shift from using Honor Council to using dean’s panels, and why they are not accessible or transparent to the students (disregarding the obvious issue of confidentiality). I hope that anyone interested in or concerned about rape and sexual assault policy on college campuses will continue to follow this issue as it progresses.

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