By: Nettie Comerford
To start the General Affairs session at the 2017 Youth and Government competition, Chambliss Peirson, Allison Reimer, and Lily Turner proposed, to increase accountability of schools who are in violation of Title IV and perpetrators of sexual assault in universities. The group began by sharing a testimony from an anonymous Vanderbilt student: “On June 22 of 2013, as a happy, hardworking Vanderbilt student looking forward to my future, I’ve seen with my own eyes what I was when Mr. Batey was done with me, a piece of trash, face down in a hallway covered in his urine and paw prints. Since that night all I I’ve wanted is for this to be behind me. But the process to get justice has been a never ending constant misery in my life that I can’t remember a time when this wasn’t happening.”
Although their proposal did not pass, the Delegates had hoped to strengthen Title IX by ensuring that a school’s affairs would not override legal action in cases that involve sexual assault. “Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in any federally funded education which includes private colleges…Title IX does not require schools to report incidents of sexual violence to law enforcement which we propose to make mandatory,” Pierson said. “It’s purpose is to actually carry on the case in order for the victim to get justice, because that’s the failure of Title IX, at least where it is right now,” Turner said. “The hard part of writing the proposal is working around what’s already existing, and there’s a lot of flaws in the system. It’s hard to figure out how to navigate around all the flaws.”
The proposal defined sexual assault as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, in which the biggest example is rape.” In universities, sexual assault is an issue that affects both sexes, according to RAINN, “11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through force, or violence. Among graduate students, 8.8% of females and 2.2% of males experience rape or sexual assault. Among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault. Only female student victim’s, age 18-24, report to law enforcement.”
Pierson and Turner, each seniors, are worried about attending college this coming year. Turner said, “It’s scary to think that this could be a situation that we could find ourselves in… It’s just something that needs to be changed.” Peirson believes many of the issues are the result of faulty university practices. “Law enforcement tries to bring justice to victims, I don’t think schools do [that] at all,” Pierson said. Pierson believes schools have a vested interest in protecting students mainly because of the consequences they may face if they do not report the incidents. “They will have some federal funds taken away, or in extreme cases the Office of Civil Rights can take them to court.”
The proposal faced questions about their statistics becuase many victims who have been sexually assaulted do not report their attacks. Turner said, “A really difficult part about it is that because of the fact that most rapes aren’t reported, you can’t find a single statistic that’s 100% accurate because there’s a lot of cases that aren’t represented and that’s what everyone argued against us for. Schools try to stop it in any way they can handle it internally and law enforcement tries to do their part but if they can’t get the full story, there’s not much they can really do.”
The proposa’ls authors, also discussed how our communities can work towards improving the lives of victims. “Rape is definitely a taboo topic, so I think that makes it uncomfortable to talk about and I think that’s why progress is so slow,” Turner said. Until we are willing to talk about the reality of campus rapes, these institutions will not be motivated to acknowledge the extent of the problem.
Even though the proposal did not pass, the group continues to feel like they have work to do to better the school systems.
“It’s still something I’m passionate about. It not passing is not the end of this, there’s still more we can do,” Peirson said.