Sexual Assault at Yale

Like fellow TAPPED blogger Jamelle Bouie, I give serious kudos to the Obama administration for highlighting sexual assault. I'd note, too, that built in to the coverage of Biden's forthcoming announcement is an example of why this issue is so often dismissed.

A lot of the articles mention a recently opened investigation into sexual harassment at Yale. These quick nods tend to link the complaint to ugly statements made by campus fraternities, which make it easy to downplay the complaint's seriousness. (And indeed the Yale Daily News found plenty of students willing to say that the complaint was unwarranted.)

But reporters' focus on the frat incidents misses the complaint's larger point. From the complainants' press release:

The complaint also discusses Yale’s failure to appropriately address several instances of private sexual harassment and assault. Under Title IX, universities are required to provide adequate guidance and support for students who report harassment or assault. Anonymous testimonies detail the manner in which the university has failed to comply with this obligation.

With sexual assault, where there's smoke, there is fire. The freedom that frat boys feel to call their classmates "sluts" or to chant "no means yes" in public is only the most visible manifestation of a culture that tolerates sexual assault on campus and suppresses reports of individual incidents. Rape and sexual assault are under-reported crimes; tolerance of this sort of speech both sanctions private behavior and pressures victims to keep quiet.

What's more, the evidence in sexual-assault cases often consists mainly of testimony from the alleged assailant and the victim. Dismissing complaints about speech condoning sexual violence only teaches women that speaking up in their own defense will have little effect and deters them from reporting an attack to begin with.