Thursday, September 16, 2021

Group seeks to end silence surrounding sexual assault

Last week, The State News published a letter written by Dan Schmidt in which he criticized the protestors at the Izzone Campout for “ignor(ing) facts in the attempt to prove a point” (“_Protestors at Friday’s Izzone Campout were in the wrong,” SN 10/26_).

The Coalition Against Sexual Violence, which organized the demonstration on Oct. 22, would like to respond to Schmidt’s letter by sharing with him and the East Lansing community some “facts” about the alleged sexual assault incident in question and the surrounding rape culture at MSU.

On the evening of Aug. 29, two alleged members of the MSU basketball team allegedly assaulted an MSU freshman in their dorm in Wonders Hall.

As she stated in the police report, the assault survivor said, “I don’t want it,” “don’t” and “stop” as the alleged assailants allegedly continued to force her into different positions.

The MSU police forwarded the case to the prosecutor’s office as Criminal Sex Conduct I, the most severe category of sexual assault crimes. Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III decided not to prosecute the case, despite the victim’s allegations in a Michigan Messenger report that she did not agree to drop the charges.

Schmidt reminds us, “In our country, one is innocent until proven guilty,” but the lack of prosecution in this case has allowed no opportunity to investigate further whether the two men are guilty or not.

In spite of the legal system’s decision to drop the charges against the assailants, the administration at MSU retains the right to take disciplinary action against its students. Such action would not be without precedent.

Last May, two basketball players at Saint Louis University were accused of sexual assault, and although the legal charges against them were dropped, Saint Louis held a student conduct hearing for them in September.

It was decided that the assailants would be suspended from the university for one semester and allowed to reapply after Jan. 1 only if they fulfilled certain requirements, including writing letters of apology to the victim, the university and the basketball program. Saint Louis’ response to this sexual assault sends a clear message that rape, whether subject to prosecution or not, will not be tolerated on its campus.

In his letter, Schmidt also complains about protestors’ signs that bore messages such as “Don’t Cheer Rape.” He states that fans were being accused of supporting rape by “supporting … (MSU men’s basketball) head coach Tom Izzo for not punishing those involved in the incident in August publicly.”

The Coalition does not, in fact, accuse basketball fans of supporting Izzo’s inaction with regards to this case, in part because we suspect that many basketball fans are not even aware of the alleged assault.

Rather, the Coalition criticizes Izzo’s failure to remove the alleged players from his team; as long as those players remain on the court, basketball fans will find themselves cheering on alleged assailants whether they support Izzo’s response to the incident or not.

The lack of administrative response to this and other incidences of sexual violence at MSU helps to create and maintain a rape culture in our community. Rape culture is defined as “a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. … A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.”

Another aspect of rape culture that has been prevalent in this case is the insistence that the accusation probably is false. However, a Portland, Ore., police study found that only 1.6 percent of sexual assault cases were reported falsely, while the 2005 National Crime Victimization Study concludes 61 percent of rapes never even are reported.

We can take these statistics into context if we consider that from 2007-09, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education lists 42 cases of sexual assault reported on MSU’s campus.

Based on that data, we can project that there were actually about 105 instances of rape during those two years — 63 of which went unreported. And of the 42 reported cases, barely one of them statistically could be accounted for as false — if the numbers are rounded up.

These figures serve to prove that it is much more common to insist that a victim is lying than it is for either a non-victim to submit a false report or for an assailant to suffer any consequences.

A final, fundamental attribute of a rape culture is silence. The administration at MSU could use this case to educate students about safety and consent while condemning sexual violence on campus.

Instead, they have made efforts to keep the incident quiet in local and national news so they will not be forced to take a decisive stance on the issue.

The Coalition Against Sexual Violence

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