Controversy escalates over sexual violence on campus.
Tuesday October 10, 2006
The issue of sexual violence erupted into political controversy at William and Mary last year as a greater than usual number of women came forward with reports of sexual assault. A 1998 U.S. Department of Justice study found that in a typical academic year, three percent of college women report a rape or attempted rape. Yet only three sexual assaults were reported at William and Mary in 2004–on a campus of 7,500 students. In the fall 2005 semester alone, however, William and Mary received four reports of rape from female students in just five weeks.
In one case, a non-student was arrested on charges that he raped and robbed a 22-year-old female student at knifepoint on November 29 in her off-campus apartment. In two other cases, students reported being raped by male students who they knew. Almost overnight, tension gripped a usually vibrant campus community.
Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control report that 17 percent of women have been forced to engage in sexual intercourse against their wills during their lifetimes. So at William and Mary, an estimated 500 women already have or will at some point personally experience sexual violence.
“There was a certain level of shock [after the 2005 string of assaults]. It was hard to imagine what was going on,” Will Coggin, a conservative campus activist and editor at the libertarian campus magazine The Remnant, told Campus Progress. Coggin learned of the events while studying abroad during the fall term. Coggin said that at the time, he saw at least one positive interpretation of the news: Perhaps the incidence of sexual assaults did not increase, but the number of victims coming forward to report the violence did.
Back in Virginia, William and Mary’s campus was flooded by local media. Articles described a campus “crisis,” noting the back-to-back timing of the assault reports. William and Mary News, the university’s official paper, reported in a Feb. 2, 2006 article that students had received worried phone calls from their parents. In an interview with the News, Bethany Stackhouse recalled her mother asking, “Aren’t you scared?” She responded, “Why should I be?” Students like Bethany were worried about safety, but not on a level that would change their daily lives. Some women believed that they would be safe as long as they did not put themselves in certain risky situations. But while caution is always advised, the assumption that victims of sexual assault could have prevented the crimes committed against them demonstrated the pre-feminist mindset at William and Mary.
Feminism on Trial
William and Mary Vice President of Student Affairs Sam Sadler usually disseminates campus information via mass email, including news of student deaths and natural disasters. It is also not atypical for announcements about serious, alleged crimes to be shared in these emails. In early November, Sadler informed the student body about the arrest and charge of a college senior male for rape, revealing his name. The message extended concern for the alleged victim and reminded the campus that the charged student was innocent until proven guilty.