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A local look at college sexual assault policy and culture

By Amanda Dee

Photo: Dayton area resident Brock Turner became the name and face of lenient punishment for sexual assault on college campuses, after the impact statement of Emily Doe, the woman he assaulted at Stanford University, went viral and California Judge Aaron Persky recommended six months in jail, 2 percent of the possible 14-year maximum.

 

What do the California legislature, Antioch College, and a registered sexual offender in Dayton have in common? It sounds like a bad bar joke, but more lines connect the two dots across the country than one might initially imagine.

Each is a key part of the story of sexual assault policy and culture in higher education.

As it’s typically played out in conversation, whether with friends and family or in news cycles, the topic has historically been left to desiccate under layers and layers of dust. Like the thousands of forgotten rape kits exhumed in Ohio a few years ago (Cleveland Police Department alone was sitting on at least 4,000 of them). Yet, when a group of students, referring to themselves as the Womyn of Antioch, proposed an affirmative-consent-based (yes means yes) sexual assault policy in 1991, the Yellow Springs school quickly became a punchline across the country. Comics like Chris Farley and Phil Hartman gave voice to the joke in a Saturday Night Live sketch depicting a gameshow called Is it Date Rape?:

“May I elevate the level of sexual intimacy by feeling your buttocks?” asks Mike Myers, Male Date Rape Player No. 1. “Yes,” affirms Melanie Hutsell, Female Date Rape Player No. 1, “you have my permission.” Myers then touches Hutsell’s “buttocks” and asks, “May I raise the level yet again, and take my clothes off so that we could have intercourse?” And, Hutsell again confirms: “Yes. I am granting your request to have intercourse.”

At the time, many laughed. Today, the sketch still evokes smirks and chuckles. However, now, the premise of verbal consent to define rape and assault is being taken much more seriously. When the name Brock Turner started trending during the summer of 2016, the trend of sexual assault on college campuses had already been riding strong for decades.

People v. Turner

Editor’s note: This section contains a description of a sexual assault.

“Castrate rapists.” “If I rape Brock Turner, will I only do three months?”

On Sept. 5, 2016, sign-wielding and some armed protestors swarmed the front of Brock Turner’s home in Sugarcreek Township upon his release from jail as a convicted sex offender.

Turner, now 21, a former Oakwood resident with his family before he headed to California, on a Stanford University athletic scholarship for swimming, was just released from jail. Three months, or half his sentence, early.

Turner had sexually assaulted a 23-year-old woman, Emily Doe, at a Stanford frat party on Jan. 18, 2015. He had pulled her dress up, took off her underwear, and penetrated her with his fingers, behind a nearby dumpster. Two cyclists were biking by the incident and spotted Turner, who was thrusting his body against Doe. The cyclists then noticed Doe was not moving, shouted at Turner, and tackled him after he fled before calling the police, who arrested Turner. Both were intoxicated, but Doe was unresponsive for hours after police were called.

The court convicted Turner of three felonies. The price? Up to 14 years in prison, which Turner’s dad criticized in court as “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.” Santa Clara Judge Aaron Persky reduced the 14 years in prison to six months in jail, which was reduced to three for good behavior (typical California jail protocol).

Although Turner served less than 2 percent of the possible 14-year sentence and traumatized Doe for life, her case was referred to as “a best case scenario.” And she’s not alone.

The College Experience 

Rates of sexual assault against women on college campuses vary slightly across studies over the past 15 years, but it often rings in near 20 percent—that commonly cited “one in five women” statistic. Moreover, only some of these incidents are reported to colleges, much less reported to law enforcement. There is criticism of samples in these studies, be it regarding sample size or failure to select a truly random sample, or regarding claims of universality of the “one in five” go-to figure. Yet, it’s an issue where simple yes-or-no boxes on a poll can be misshapen by trauma, shame, or drugs and alcohol in intimate moments with few to no witnesses. It’s an issue where statistics may not measure up to the crime.

Criminal defense attorney and Antioch alumnus Phillip Brigham comments that a sexual assault case walking in his door is most likely an easy win for him, though adding the words “frankly” and “disgustingly” to that fact: “Because the burden of proof is so high on a sexual assault case, because so many of them go unreported, because they’re embarrassed. Or they’re scared. Or any number of other reasons that a sexual assault victim is not going to want to report.”

Earlier in 2016, The Dayton Daily News i-Team examined 167 sex offenses, 79 of which were alleged rapes and sexual assaults, reported to campus police at eight Ohio universities, including UD and WSU, in 2014 and 2015. Out of all these cases, five led to arrests in 2014 and 2015.

When the critically acclaimed documentary “The Hunting Ground” released in 2015, it presented that “one-in-five” figure voiced by harrowing testimonials from rape and sexual assault survivors who were ignored by their high-power collegiate administrations, setting schools like Harvard—and Stanford—in garish light. Some dissented, stating the film leaned entirely to the side of accusers and failed to present some critical information, like key facts from police records about the high-profile case against Florida football star Jameis Winston. The film centers around two survivors who file Title IX (a subsect in the Education Amendments Act of 1972 banning educational discrimination on the basis of sex) complaints and start networking with other survivors across the country to teach others how to file these complaints leading to federal investigations.

Gary Dickstein, Wright State University vice president of student affairs, explains some of the question marks that muddy Title IX and these investigations: “The way [Title IX is] written, if not purposefully ambiguous, it certainly is definitely ambiguous, so that you can interpret it in multiple different ways—which is basically causing the largest majority of our problems, I would say, in terms of why certain schools do certain things one way, certain schools do it another…”

Furthermore, authorities compete.

“You have the Department of Education saying certain things, then you have Congress men and women and senators getting involved in this issue and reading things, and interpreting it, and telling the Department of Ed., ‘No, you can’t do this,’ and yet, they’re still doing it,” he says. “And universities get caught in the middle because no one wants to lose their federal financial aid in a worst-case scenario or get fined or even see their name on a list of all the rest of 190 and odd-some schools, give or take, currently that are being investigated.”

Ask First 

Right before a torrential July storm, on a day of Antioch College’s 50th reunion events, Dayton City Paper sat on the steps leading to the Kettering Arts and Sciences building with criminal defense attorney Phillip Brigham, class of ’92, and Jilana Ordman, Ph.D., class of ’93 and member of the Alumni Board, to listen in on their recollections of SOPP, the Sexual Offense Prevention Policy (yes means yes), just part of their first-year orientations in the early ’90s and now a lifeline in sexual assault policy across the country.

The school’s current policy touches on its consent-based background, the one calling for consent every step of the sexual interaction: “In 1990, a group of Womyn of Antioch began a campaign to promote a culture free of sexual violence at Antioch College. Through this effort, a document was created which became known as the Sexual Offense Prevention Policy (SOPP).”

Some context to this policy: Antioch officially adopted this iconoclastic change in 1991, in the context of a series of rapes and deaths in a population of less than 500 students. Yet, even at Antioch, the SOPP was met with some resistance.

The SOPP is the edited, clarified version of the original proposal by the Womyn.

“When I got here, more subsidiary issues got ironed out—like what if someone can’t give consent, and how can you give consent,” Ordman notes about the transitions in the new policy a few years after it was formalized. “There were still incidents on campus, but there was a lot more peer pressure to follow it.”

“Consent” is not explicitly defined in Ohio law; though, it is included in sexual misconduct policy at Wright State, UD, Wittenberg, and Central State.

And here we come, back to California, the home of Stanford, and the first state to mandate that colleges must require students to obtain affirmative, conscious, and voluntary sexual consent, which it passed in 2014. It’s also a state where the governor revised state law to expand the definition of “rape” because of the Brock Turner case: California Gov. Jerry Brown legislated mandatory prison time for cases of sexual assault, in addition to rape.

Two Bicycles

“I sleep with two bicycles that I drew taped above my bed to remind myself there are heroes in this story. That we are looking out for one another. To have known all of these people, to have felt their protection and love, is something I will never forget.” —Glamour’s 2016 Woman of the Year, Emily Doe, the anonymous survivor who suffered and still suffers from Brock Turner’s sexual assault at Stanford University.

If two Swedish cyclists didn’t happen to schedule their ride Jan. 28, 2015 and also pace themselves to intersect with Turner committing the crime, the Brock Turner case might not have been the viral story it became—not a “best case scenario,” as Doe was told about her case.

The cyclists’ stopping, yelling, and calling the police is “bystander intervention” at its simplest: doing something in a situation to prevent violence.

Most schools have bystander prevention programming set in place, like, for instance, at WSU.

Additionally, Antioch and UD boast branches of the national Green Dot campaign: this campaign seeks to turn “red dots,” or incidents of gender-based violence, green by training those not classified as perpetrators or survivors to take action when the signs are pointing to a potential “red dot” situation. After a four-day training and program costs, which are not publicly disclosed on its website, schools can have Green Dot-certified instructors. These instructors then share how to identify and intervene in potentially threatening situations (like the night of Jan. 18, 2015) through interactive workshops and training sessions, which involve videos, written activities, and role-playing through difficult situations.

Green Dot, like Title IX, can be adapted to any community, something Kristen Altenau Keen, UD assistant dean of students and sexual violence prevention education coordinator, lauds as one of the positives of Green Dot as a bystander intervention program.

While University of Dayton officials agreed to discuss aspects of their sexual assault prevention program, Dayton City Paper struggled to obtain comments directly addressing the sexual assault policy and accountability of the Green Dot program.

After a phone call explaining the angle of this story to UD Director of Media Relations Cilla Shindell, DCP sent a list of questions regarding UD’s consent-based policy, how officials gauge success of the Green Dot program, how policy is working to change the culture, and more to Shindell.

“In looking over your questions, we think that UD could add the most value to your story by discussing our prevention programs—specifically Green Dot—which have been in place for several years,” Shindell responds. “We believe we’re far ahead of any number of universities in developing a comprehensive education and prevention program.”

Courtesy of Keen, Shindell includes in the email, “Green Dot is a national bystander intervention program that UD launched in January 2014. Green Dot’s message to intervene if you see problematic behavior aligns with our Catholic and Marianist values around what it means to be a member of a community. Green Dot includes marketing messages throughout campus, overview speeches, and a seven hour skills-based training that is offered 4 times/semester for students, faculty, and staff. Green Dot has normalized bystander intervention at UD.”

After requesting a follow-up interview with Keen, DCP was granted a telephone interview with Keen. DCP asked Keen over the phone, supervised by Shindell, how Green Dot had achieved this success of the program.

“We hear a lot of stories from our students saying they’re seeing increased Green Dots happening in the [residential housing] neighborhood, as they’re interacting with their peers and as they’re kind of moving through their world at UD,” she says.

Dayton City Paper then asked about some takeaways she and other officials have found from those comments they say they’re using to gauge success.

“The real goal of Green Dot is to send a message that every student, faculty, staff member has the power to stop violence,” she responds.

When asked if Keen and the prevention side of sexual assault programing spend a lot of time working with the Title IX coordinator, she prefaces her response with nearly 10 seconds of silence: “We collaborate throughout the year and support one another in making sure that prevention education, education around our policy is happening as often as possible.”

“I am on the prevention side, 100 percent,” Keen says. “So I actually don’t work directly with the policies.”

Despite not providing clearer connections between the Title IX policy on-campus and prevention of its violations, Keen and the program spread a positive message that has started to reach a lot of people: thousands of students hear UD’s “Overview” speech with bystander intervention information at the start of every year, and 700 students, faculty, and staff members have undergone the seven-hour Green Dot training. Keen also leads a program called “Don’t Cancel Your Class,” “where if faculty wake up and they’re sick or maybe they are headed to a conference and they know they’re going to have to cancel some of their classes, we ask that instead they call us to be able to come to their class and do a presentation on sexual violence prevention,” Keen explains. Keens says Green Dot also partnered with UD Marketing this academic year to produce Green Dot bookmarks, which went into every shopping bag at the school’s bookstore. Shindell says Keen has also worked with some of the businesses on Brown Street near UD. Antioch, like UD, is Green Dot-certified, but it also has an advantage larger schools, like WSU, don’t have: that close proximity of a smaller group of students living together. “Because [Antioch’s] such a small community, personalities play a major role in the politics,” Ordman says. “It turned the tables on the procedure. Instead of women being branded negatively for making an accusation, it made guys super paranoid about being accused. When [a sexual assault] happened, there was massive upheaval in social groups…”

Antioch, and primarily Antioch students, worked not only to change the policy but the culture from the ground up. Contrast that with WSU, where Dickstein and his team operate with the pressure of getting education about consent and sexual assault out there and, thus, hoping to change the culture as Antioch demonstrated, but with a more fluid audience: “We have the students who drive to campus, park their car, walk to campus, go to class, walk back to their car, and leave. It’s really hard for us. And, a lot of those students are 18- to 22-year-old students who might, after a couple weeks, meet some friends, join a club, get involved in a sorority, fraternity, join an organization, go to some house party, so they might still get connected and be around a lot of people and potentially be in an environment where that kind of stuff could happen, but they don’t know what to do.”

He contrasts WSU’s challenge to UD and more residential schools: “It’s even a bigger challenge for schools like us who have a significantly larger commuter population than you do at UD, which is basically residential—because you have a captive audience, and there are multiple ways with that captive audience that you can get information in their hands.”

“If you want to change culture, you’ve got to educate people,” Dickstein stresses. “You’ve got to make your expectations clear about what it is the culture, the community will tolerate and what it won’t tolerate.”

Reactions to the Turner case, and to Doe’s testimonial, show that the level of tolerance for incidences such as this has decreased compared to nearly three decades ago, that our culture at large, as depicted through media, is growing away from simply joking about rape. Yet how, and if, we address rape and sexual assault depends on the culture of the institution. For better or for worse.

 

If you or someone you know has suffered a sexual assault, there are resources available to you: National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673); Rape Crisis Center’s 24-Hour Hotline at 877.906.7273, and Ohio Law Enforcement at 911.

For more information on the Green Dot program, please visit LiveTheGreenDot.com.

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Amanda Dee
Reach DCP Editor Amanda Dee at editor@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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