Students Allege That Rape Goes Unpunished at Columbia University

Earlier this week, a stack of fliers was left in a women’s bathroom at Columbia University. The list was titled “Rapists on Campus” and it included the names of four undergraduate students currently attending the university. The fliers identified three of the men as having been “found responsible” and a fourth one as a “serial rapist.”

Allison Herman is a junior at Columbia College — one of the university’s undergraduate schools. She told Fusion, “I don’t think that writing someone’s name in a bathroom wall is anyone’s first response to an assault. I think it’s a last resort when someone has exhausted every channel they possibly can and don’t think there’s any other way to help keep their peers safe.”

This comes weeks after 23 students from Barnard and Columbia Colleges filed a federal complaint against the university, citing violations of Title IX, Title II and the university’s Clery Act. Title IX is part of the Education Amendments of 1972. It protects students who attend institutions that receive federal financial assistance from gender-based discrimination, which includes sexual harassment and abuse.

The students filing the complaint argue counseling services at the University have pressured students not to report sexual assaults. Those making accusations about the alleged assaults say they felt the people serving in the disciplinary proceedings are not trained correctly.

One of the students filing the complaint, Emma Sulkowicz, class of 2015, said her report was not treated properly. In an interview with Fusion’s Alicia Menendez, Emma explained her decision to go public: “If I can stop one person from having to go through what I went through, I’ll feel better.”

Sulkowicz identified one of the men on the list as her attacker.

“My rapist is a part of this community. I don’t feel safe knowing (he’s) around,” she said in a phone interview. The man she identified as her rapist has allegedly been the subject of three separate formal sexual assault complaints.

Part of the anger comes from dissatisfaction with Columbia’s sexual conduct policies. According to the policy, students who are found responsible “may be subject to sanctions including, but not limited to, reprimand/warning, disciplinary probation, suspension and dismissal. A student also may be barred from certain University facilities or activities, or required to attend educational programming.”

The school’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, emailed a statement to the Columbia University community in which he said:

“Over the last several weeks, we have authorized the addition of Title IX investigators and have consolidated the investigative offices to improve the adjudicatory process. The Office of Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct will now report directly to the Associate Provost for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, Title IX Coordinator. We also have facilitated the expansion of the professional staff in the Office of Sexual Violence Response to ensure 24-hour on-call access to professional staff, while keeping fully intact existing access to peer advocates. Furthermore, we have identified an additional location for the Rape Crisis Center in Lerner Hall, which will provide an alternative to the current location in Hewitt Hall. These and other resources are detailed and will be regularly updated on the new website, Sexual Respect, launched earlier this year.”

President Bollinger also added that a “critical component” of this reform was the creation of the office of Executive Vice President of Student Affairs. The new office will centralize responsibility and facilitate better coordination.

Erik Campano, a student at Columbia and one of the 23 students who filed the complaint, explained during a phone interview that the victims have not been helped by the school.

“The survivors I know, many, most, didn’t come out of this experienced healed,” Campano said.

This is not the first time something of this nature has occurred on a college campus. In 1990, a similar thing occurred at Brown University, where a list of as many as 30 names appeared in several campus bathrooms.

Allison Herman, a junior at Columbia University, told Fusion, “These survivors are my classmates, these assailants are my classmates… it really makes you question the university’s ability to create a safe environment.”

Credit: Alicia Menendez, Claudia Pou, Andrea Torres, Jessica Blank, Ignacio Torres, Cleo Stiller-Farrell, ABC News

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