12:41 p.m. April 13, 2013

A scribble

So (upon our Editor-in-Chief's sage advice) I figure newsroom is the right place to talk a bit more about the the thinking behind the “Shut Up and Pay” piece, as well as provide some additional material for context to our readers.

This was a survivor's account that for reasons of length and flow was left out of the main piece. I'm adding it here because I think it is relevant to the issues raised by the story. What disturbs me most about Leah Rubin's story is its similarity to Liz Willette's, even though they took place 15 years apart, after more than one cycle of ostensible “reform” at ASU.

Major trigger warning, obviously:

By 1996, Leah Rubin had made a life at ASU. She paid the bills by working on-campus and at a local photo store. She did reporting and graphic design for The Appalachian student newspaper, participated in voter drives, helped LGBT and feminist causes, and even found time to play in a local band, the feminazis.

One night, after drinking more than normal, a friend took her back home. After he left, two men who lived in the same building, and whom she'd turned down multiple times before, tried to get in the apartment. The next thing she knew she woke up in her living room floor, her shirt gone, boots still on, body battered. Near dawn, she went to ASU's infirmary.

“I remember just curling up in a ball on a bed,” she says. “It was just a vacant building...no one to talk to.” Returning to her apartment building, she knocked on the door of the men who raped her. One answered, and swore it was his roommate, not him, then instead said that she had invited them in, and wanted it.

She lit a cigarette in front of him, and held it “straight onto my arm until it went out, and [I] could smell my skin burning.” He shouted at her to stop, “and I said 'no, I won't stop, but at least I can say no now because what you did to me last night – well, you didn’t give me the choice did you?'”

The police told Rubin that because she was intoxicated, she couldn't press charges.

This is, of course, completely false: sex with someone too drunk to give their consent is always rape. They took her to the hospital for an examination, then left her in the police car. She says recalls no aid, no comfort, from law enforcement or the university.

“I was stunned at how basically I was going to have to battle through this myself.” She kept insisting to the police that she wanted to press charges. Later, she talked to an assistant district attorney, some senior police officers, and a judge, who told her they wouldn't proceed. She angrily asked them if this was how they treated their wives and daughters, and stormed out.

She still has a burn scar on her left forearm.

It's worth noting that Rubin credits the university's counselors with saving her life as she recovered from the trauma, but says otherwise she received no support.

Back channel chatter

  1. In addition to my own familiarity with ASU's particular history of repeated problems on this front, I wanted to work on this story because I felt this wasn't that uncommon of a situation across the country. The blatance of the attempt to silence Jammie Price was a little unusual, but in some ways ASU was simply the rock this story happened to overturn.

    Still, the amount of people who've come forward since this story broke to say “yeah, it was this way at my college too” has hurt to witness. It's all types of colleges too: private, public, Ivy League, liberal, conservative. This seems endemic across universities, to the point where I have to wonder how deep it goes.

    We discussed this a bit on NSFWLive earlier this week, and touched on how some other institutions (business and Wall Street) react to the same problem, but I think it's important to detail the standard process for reacting to this sort of issue.

    The aspects of corporate culture that have taken over the administration of colleges like ASU have a process for reacting to this or any other scandal. Appoint a task force, make some minor reforms, quietly shut down any spontaneous pushes for reform, insist that the problem is solved and “move on.”

    There's a big love in the corporate world (and the political one, for that matter) for this kind of kabuki, because it gives a way of putting deeply troubling issues into an established, “safe” process. Popular memory is short, particularly at a university, and if the same problems resurface in a few years, administrators can just repeat it.

    So a big part of the reason for this story is that the opposite needs to happen. Don't move on. Dredge up old stories and scandals. Insist on settling scores. Ask: Why did this happen before? Why does it keep happening? Why are many of the same administrators still around?

    This situation's about power, and power centers on who can be ignored, and what people with power feel must be defended at all costs. In the debate around the Jammie Price scandal, one thing that's struck me is the absolute, unwavering support of the administrators for each other, even when it's clearly not good for their public image.

    Before the vote of no confidence, Peacock circulated an email expressing his absolute confidence in the Provost and talking about how wonderful she was. The message is clear: the safety of students and the freedoms of faculty are expendable, but the careers of administrators aren't up for question, even when they've obviously screwed up. That needs to reverse.

    A lot of activists on these issues emphasize education, especially aimed at countering rape culture, and that's absolutely vital. But consequences also play a major role, and one I don't think gets discussed enough.

    One major point from Helen Benedict's groundbreaking reporting on the epidemic of rape in the military was that when commanders don't tolerate it, it doesn't happen. Something about the possibility of life in Leavenworth sends a message. To fully work, the consequences don't just need to focus on the rapists, but on those sanctioning and ignoring the issue.

    So if administrators routinely lose their jobs for not treating the problem of rape seriously, it'll be shocking how quickly their behavior changes. When frats lose recognition and see guilty members go to prison for a decade or more, they'll get the point. If student athletes know their peers will hate them and their careers are immediately over, that culture will change too.

    This has happened before, and while it doesn't eliminate problems, it at least actually improves the situation. Blatant racism didn't become less acceptable because racists suddenly realized they needed to be better people. It decreased because a lot of people who didn't personally care realized there were consequences if they stuck to the old way of doing things. “Change or else” was the implicit message of the most successful parts of the civil rights, feminist and, most recently, the LGBT movements.

    That's what should happen anyway. My gut fear is that three to five years from now, we'll just be able to tack the latest scandal onto this story and reprint it whole.

    Non-US types, I'm interested in how this problem did (or didn't) manifest at your universities. Likewise, if anyone went to an American college where this wasn't a problem, I'd like to hear what worked there.

  2. A friend responds:

    American colleagues tell me that sexual violence is just endemic on campus. I don't think it's anything like that here - but I lead a sheltered life; perhaps it's going on unknown. At least I haven't heard of more than one or two such cases in my career in UK universities.

  3. Other people are suggesting there's a lot of “non-consensual” sex in UK universities, and covering up / refusal to properly investigate/treat rape claims. No one aware of anything so extreme that I'm hearing from at the moment though.