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:
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.