Anger, disbelief, disappointment and horror colored students’ tweets on the #AGreatPlaceToBeUnsafe hashtag on Twitter.
The hashtag, based on the University’s slogan, “A great place to be…” called attention to the issues students had with the way the University handled a case of sexual assault reported in October.
The case, which placed the University on a list of 76 universities under investigation by the federal government, was recently picked up by the Huffington Post, bringing national attention.
The article reported that the man confessed to raping the woman and was punished with a required essay and counseling, expulsion from his dormitory and disassociation from his fraternity. Some students, such as Lenexa senior Michael Garrett, said the punishment is too light.
“In what other case in today’s world is a rape charge going to be settled with writing an essay, being kicked out of your dormitory and going to take counseling courses?” Garrett said. “...any other place, if you rape another person, that’s a huge crime, and you’re going to be dealt with to the full extent of the law. Why is this a different case if there’s a clear violation of the law?”
Garrett said he believes the issue stems from the University’s established protocol and the University needs to reevaluate those standards.
“It kind of seems like KU handled it the way protocol states, and I just don’t think that is the right way that it should be happening,” Garrett said.
Joey Hentzler, a senior from Topeka, is not only frustrated with the University, but local authorities as well. Charles Branson, Douglas County district attorney, decided not to press charges despite a confession from the man, according to the Huffington Post article.
“When we talk about the University’s response, we should talk about the response of police and local officials like the D.A.,” Hentzler said. “It’s just a consistent failure to provide adequate redress, so the victim is not given justice. It’s a part of our culture or it’s a part of people’s misunderstanding of rape that the transgressor even if he’s found guilty – he admitted to it – is still not prosecuted.”
Miranda Wagner, a senior from Shawnee and a member of the Title IX roundtable, said she believes there is an overall cultural problem with how rape victims are treated that could lead people to not want to report.
“I think that overall in our culture we have such a prevalent attitude of victim-blaming and not asking the right questions about the situation,” Wagner said. “That’s what leads people to not want to report: those attitudes that we see throughout different law enforcement agencies and apparently at the University level too.”
The use of phrases like “non-consensual sex” in the University’s communications angered students like Liz James, a sophomore from Overland Park. James is the sexual assault activism coordinator for Students United for Reproductive and Gender Equity at KU (SURGE KU). James said she believed “non-consensual sex” didn’t exist. She said it’s rape.
The man’s attorney, Michael J. Fisher, cited the woman’s possession and consumption of birth-control pills as consent and evidence that no rape occurred, according to the article. Kailee Karr, a senior from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said she was frustrated by the use of birth-control as evidence of consent in the man’s defense. Karr, who said she intends to pursue a career in higher education student affairs and counseling, said there are lots of non-sexual reasons to use birth-control pills.
“As a young woman on birth control for non-sexual reasons, it made me fearful that if something were to happen to me, I would have no support from my community, from the University that I’ve spent the past four years trying to give back to and really trying to make a safe place,” Karr said.
Nolan Jones, an alumnus who graduated in 2007, said he was a member of Student Senate when he attended the University and was active in the “safe walk” program, which placed the blue emergency lights on campus. He said the initiative was helpful but does little for cases that take place off campus or involve alcohol.
“I think that there’s so much in terms of consent awareness and alcohol education that I was not involved in in my time at KU, and looking from the vantage point I’ve got now, that’s where so many of these problems are,” Jones said.
— Edited by Hannah Barling