Louisa Ackermann

Sexual Assaults on Campus: Standing Up for Lena

This is not just about me. There are so many survivors out there. This is about all of us.”

These are the words Lena Sclove gave in a statement as it emerged that a man, who had sexually assaulted and choked her at Brown University, would be allowed to complete his studies at the institution. The man’s punishment was to be suspended for just one semester.

He was found guilty of one count of illegal drug/alcohol possession and three counts of ‘Sexual Misconduct’. This is an absurdly light-handed phrase to describe the incident at hand. ‘Misconduct’ suggests little more than bad behaviour. According to Google Dictionary, its meaning is ‘to behave in an improper manner.’ It’s a word that would be better suited to, say, inappropriate language or getting drunk and stealing a traffic cone. It’s a word that has no place in the discussion of a case of violent rape. This may seem like a tangential issue, but language is an eternally important tool in how we construct our views of the world. Using ‘Sexual Misconduct’ as a descriptor for what should rightly be called ‘Rape’ undermines the violence of the crime. The significance of the incident is made lesser, and we end up in a world where a known rapist can continue to benefit from a top university education, because he has apparently been appropriately punished by a few months absence from college.

Sclove and her supporters have since been campaigning for reform of Brown University’s policies on sex crimes. In a petition to the university to reform their ‘broken system’, campaigners wrote:

We are forced to ask: if rape and strangulation are not enough to permanently expel someone from Brown, what is?

The incident occurred at the beginning of August 2013, and a few months later, Sclove discovered the strangulation had left her with a spine injury in her neck. She was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Talking to the Huffington Post, she said ‘I was just so angry, and the first thought I had was “I can’t finish my degree here.” They’re letting him come right back, so either I need to take two years off until he graduates, or I need to transfer somewhere else… I did not do anything wrong, and yet I’m the one who’s going to take time off or transfer.’

Since the case has garnered such huge publicity stateside, Sclove’s assaulter has since decided not to return to Brown. But what is crucial is that is he is still allowed to, and that the case is not unique: perpetrators of similar crimes are receiving equally lenient punishments.

It shouldn’t need to be reiterated that a system that favours the education and livelihood of a rapist, rather than the safety and well-being of the person they raped is flawed (to put it mildly). It shouldn’t even be a question of whether a survivor will choose to see their assaulter on campus daily, or whether they will drop out and go somewhere else. There is no justice in a system which actively punishes the victims of crime. By being denied the right to feel safe on campus, they are the ones being excluded.

Sclove’s case was not an isolated incident. It is part of a system which is failing survivors everywhere and which we cannot allow our universities, our governing bodies or ourselves to be complicit in.

You can help add pressure to Brown University by signing the petition here.

4 thoughts on “Sexual Assaults on Campus: Standing Up for Lena

  1. We still live in a country where due process is the rule of law. There has been ZERO evidence that the alleged rape and “strangulation” ever happened, and the young man has been found guilty of neither. To state them as fact is simply irresponsible.

    • Very well said. While the rights of women to be safe on campus should ( rightfully so) be front-and-center, so should the rights of accused men, as well. Like it or not, we have no business labeling this account as “rape”, or running the accused into the muck, where no court, or even the Brown Committee, has made such a determination.

  2. While I of course support the need to keep all students safe on campus, I am concerned that the case of Lena and her alleged assailant has been tried, with verdict included, on the Internet rather than in the judicial system. Brown didn’t find the young man guilty of rape ( much less of strangulation), but the ensuing mob mentality has found him guilty. I know that Lena has her story, butbitb is just that— a story. We should not be jumping to conclusions, at the expensenof a possibly innocent young man’s reputation, without definite proofn as determined in a court of law, that the events as she has told them are true.

  3. 1.) Daily Beast – June 8, 2014
    Brown University Student Speaks Out on What It’s Like to Be Accused of Rape http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/06/08/exclusive-brown-university-student-speaks-out-on-what-it-s-like-to-be-accused-of-rape.html

    2.) Chronicle of Higher Ed – June 12, 2014
    Opening New Front in Campus-Rape Debate, Brown Student Tells Education Dept. His Side
    http://m.chronicle.com/article/Opening-New-Front-in/147047/#disqus_thread

    3.) Letter to Office for Civil Rights – June 11, 2014

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