We still talk about sexual assault in hush tones, as if it is something we are ashamed to discuss out loud. And that makes sense. It’s an issue that is so painful, so invasive to our core, that it hurts our hearts to even think about. But it’s also an issue that plagues our nation and our globe. Well into the 21st century, it seems that our society still doesn’t understand that with regard to sex, it is not okay to act without explicit permission. And despite extensive hours of work, academic expertise, and trial after trial, we have not yet perfected our policies to ensure people their right to consent. The rigid structures, legal jargon, and black and white determinations of our policies sometimes seem ill-fitted to the complexities of sexual assault cases, especially when some of us are still hesitant to speak about them at full volume.
That’s where the media can come into play. Journalism is a powerful tool– the fourth estate of democracy and a conduit for free speech. If I have learned anything from my first year as the editor of this publication, it is that words in print can pack a powerful punch.
I believe that the University has good intentions. I believe that the Title IX representatives at our school have a difficult job, astronomical responsibility, and a deep-seated desire to keep every Bulldog that walks our campus safe. I also worry that within certain situations, conflicts of interests may arise that make it difficult to maintain objectivity. But most of all, I worry for victims of sexual assault, who struggle to find satisfaction within the bureaucracy in a time when their pain from their experience, compounded with the uncertainty of the future, weighs heavy.
I was approached by a young woman, a fellow Bulldog, with anger and pain in her eyes. She told me she was involved in a sexual situation and felt her consent was not given. After going through the Title IX process, she said that the system had failed her. She wanted her story to be told.
This is not the first time the Redlands Bulldog has been approached about issues of sexual assault on our campus, and I am afraid this may not be our last. I am committed to advancing this conversation, no matter how hard it may be. I hope that if we work thoroughly and with courage, progress can be made. We will make this a priority in our next year of publication.
It is hard to report on stories like this, where people’s lives and reputations are on the line. But it is my responsibility, as your Editor-in-Chief, to make sure no one’s voice is silenced; to share stories, even when they’re uncomfortable or difficult to understand. As such, I am proud to share the story of this strong young woman, who felt more comfortable remaining anonymous. I also understand that cases of sexual assault are always multi-faceted, and that different people involved have their own story to share. In an attempt to explain the federal Title IX policies and those specific to the University, we are supplementing the anonymous letter with a news story centered on those policies and the perspective of our Title IX coordinator, Patricia Caudle. I also gave Caudle an opportunity to review the anonymous letter before publication. She’d like the following to be noted:
“The University recognizes that this letter represents this writer’s feelings and perspective. While the University’s perspective – and the perspective of the young man accused by the writer – is different, we respect the writer’s willingness to share her story. The University wishes to clarify that, after the University’s finding of “not responsible,” the University warned both parties not to retaliate against each other. The University reminds all participants in the Title IX process of their obligation not to retaliate against others, regardless of findings.”
In addition to research within our University, I personally had discussions with experts to learn more about the topic. I spoke with Kelly McBride, Vice President of The Poynter Institute, Rayla Allison, a Title IX expert at the University of Minnesota, and Andrew S. Boutros, the Chair of the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section Task Force on College Due Process Rights and Victim Protection and National Co-Chair of the White Collar, Internal Investigations, and False Claims Act Team at Seyfarth Shaw LLP. These experiences have taught me quite a bit and reinforced my decision to run these stories.
I understand that there will, as always, be skeptics. But I want to be make it clear that this is not an attempt at retaliation. It is, however, a push to publicize issues that need to be discussed if we are to have any hope of living in a world where rape is a rarity.
photo contributed by Halie West, Redlands Bulldog Photographer