The issue of sexual assault on college campuses has been in the spotlight this week with a White House task force urging schools to take action. The government launched a new informational website, NotAlone.gov, and a public service announcement featuring President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden alongside famous actors. But long before celebrities and senators entered the picture, the battle against sexual assault on college campuses was led by students who have risen up to hold their schools accountable. We are joined by Brown University student Lena Sclove, who says she was raped and strangled in August 2013 by a fellow student. Her alleged rapist was found responsible for four violations of the student conduct code, including "sexual misconduct that involves one or more of the following: penetration, violent physical force or injury." But his penalty effectively amounted to a one-semester suspension. Students say Sclove’s case is not unusual as universities across the country have come under fire for mishandling sexual assault cases. More unusual was Sclove’s decision to speak out by holding a press conference on Brown’s campus last week.
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AMY GOODMAN: The issue of sexual assault on college campuses has been in the spotlight this week. On Tuesday, a White House task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden released a report urging colleges to take action by conducting surveys, promoting bystander intervention and improving their disciplinary systems. Citing studies that show one in five women are sexually assaulted in college, the government launched a new informational website, NotAlone.gov, and a public service announcement featuring President Obama and Vice President Biden alongside famous actors.
BENICIO DEL TORO: We have a big problem, and we need your help.
DULÉ HILL: It’s happening on college campuses, at bars, at parties, even in high schools.
STEVE CARELL: It’s happening to our sisters and our daughters.
DANIEL CRAIG: Our wives and our friends.
SETH MEYERS: It’s called sexual assault, and it has to stop.
DULÉ HILL: We have to stop it. So listen up.
BENICIO DEL TORO: If she doesn’t consent or if she can’t consent, it’s rape, it’s assault.
STEVE CARELL: It’s a crime. It’s wrong.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: If I saw it happening, I was taught you have to do something about it.
BENICIO DEL TORO: If I saw it happening, I speak up.
DANIEL CRAIG: If I saw it happening, I’d never blame her. I’d help her.
DULÉ HILL: Because I don’t want to be a part of the problem.
SETH MEYERS: I want to be a part of the solution.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We need all of you to be a part of the solution. This is about respect. It’s about responsibility.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It’s up to all of us to put an end to sexual assault. And that starts with you.
DANIEL CRAIG: Because one is too many.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Daniel Craig, Seth Meyers, Benicio Del Toro, Steve Carell and Dulé Hill, with President Obama and Vice President Biden. The PSA will air in movie theaters and on military installations and ships. Meanwhile, Senators Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand are leading an effort for increased funding to address sexual assault at colleges.
Well, long before celebrities and senators entered the picture, the battle against sexual assault on college campuses was led by students who have risen up to hold their schools accountable, sometimes risking sanctions themselves. Students have filed federal complaints at Columbia, the University of California at Berkeley, Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt, Amherst College and Occidental, among scores of others. The number of complaints against colleges related to sexual violence has tripled since tracking began in 2009, with 33 in the first half of this year alone.
Most recently, attention has focused on Brown University, where a student, Lena Sclove, says she was raped and strangled after a party in August 2013. Her alleged rapist, a fellow student, was found responsible for four violations of the student conduct code, including "sexual misconduct that involves one or more of the following: penetration, violent physical force or injury." Sclove says a university panel recommended a two-year suspension, but a dean reduced that to one year. Sclove appealed, seeking a harsher sentence, but was denied. Since her accused attacker remained on campus throughout the hearing and appeal, his one-year suspension effectively became one semester.
The case has caused a nationwide uproar. But students at Brown and elsewhere say Lena Sclove’s story is not necessarily unusual. In fact, in her letter denying Sclove’s appeal, a Brown University official cited, quote, "the precedent of similar cases." More unusual was Lena Sclove’s decision to denounce the university in public. Last week, standing outside Brown’s Van Wickle Gates, surrounded by supporters, she described her injuries.
LENA SCLOVE: It turned out I had a cervical spine injury in my neck from being strangled. It’s very common for trauma injuries like this to take several months to surface. I could not walk for about two months, from January and February. I was bedridden and was forced to take a medical leave. So I lost my one semester of freedom, and now my next opportunity to come back as a student to matriculate here at Brown is the same semester that the rapist is allowed to come back and matriculate here at Brown. I feel like I should have been thanked by the administration for keeping this campus safe; instead, they kept him safe.
AMY GOODMAN: Lena Sclove, speaking at Brown University on April 22nd. Following the uproar over her case, her accused assailant has decided not to return to Brown in the fall. Lena Sclove joins us now in New York along with Wagatwe Wanjuki, an organizer with the Know Your IX campaign, which helps empower students to file complaints against their schools under Title IX. She’s also a contributor at Feministing and a former student at Tufts University, where she filed a complaint in 2008 after two years of alleged rape and abuse by a fellow student, but Tufts did not take action. She was in Washington, D.C., Tuesday for the announcement of the White House report.
Lena and Wagatwe, welcome. Lena, let’s begin with your case. And thank you very much for joining us. It’s extremely brave to speak out as you are doing. Can you talk about what happened to you?
LENA SCLOVE: Sure. The perpetrator was a friend of mine. We had met at a midyear transfer orientation. He seemed like a nice guy. We spent time together over the summer. And then we had been intimate a couple of times. And I think it’s really important to be open about that, because many survivors feel that they can’t come forward because not only did they know the person, but maybe they had been intimate or dated the person before. That does not mean that it can’t be rape in the future.
So, we had decided that it was over. We weren’t interested in moving forward. We were at a party on August 2nd, 2013. Both of us had been drinking. We left the party. And sort of there was definitely flirtation, and at this point it was all consensual, until I was basically pinned against a telephone pole. He had his hand wrapped around my neck. I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t move. And that is the moment it became completely unconsensual. And the rest of the night is the nightmare that keeps reliving in my head.
AMY GOODMAN: You said you were strangled twice, and you were raped.
LENA SCLOVE: Yes, I was—yes, he then got me back to his apartment, saying that he would just get me some water and walk me home. Instead, he proceeded to undress me and rape me, and choke and strangle me during the rape again, a second time.
AMY GOODMAN: After this happened, what did you do?
LENA SCLOVE: Well, I was completely in shock the next day. To be perfectly honest, I—the first person I called was a dear friend of mine who’s quite—much older than me. It was, you know, 6:00 in the morning. I woke up. I knew exactly what had happened to me. I was in pain all over. And I think it was very hard for her to understand, you know, what had happened. And it’s really—it’s really crucial to understand that the first person you go to to tell has this immense amount of power. And she really didn’t—didn’t get it and didn’t take it seriously enough or didn’t understand it. And so, by the time my best friend saw me later that day and saw the bruises on my neck and said, "You need to go to the emergency room," I refused, because I had, at that point, started to blame myself, as is so often with survivors. So it wasn’t until five days later, on the Wednesday after the attack, that I called the Brown rape crisis line and was immediately told to go to Health Services, the Brown Health Services, to get tested. And it was basically too late to get a rape kit at that time.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did you do from there?
LENA SCLOVE: Well, from there, I was basically introduced to a sexual assault advocate on campus, who is a wonderful woman, and there are incredible people at Brown who, you know, do support survivors. The problem is it’s a broken system. They are working in a broken system. So I was advised by many people on my various options. While I was told I could go to the criminal justice system, I was told, you know, in the state of Rhode Island, 2 percent of accused rapists are actually found guilty and see any time. He doesn’t have a criminal record. He didn’t have a gun or a knife. You have no physical evidence. This won’t go anywhere, and meanwhile it will be retraumatizing. I was also not given the information that it is possible to go to the police, have pictures of the bruises taken, have the evidence collected, and not make a decision at that time whether or not to press charges. So I did not have the full amount of information.
That said, I wish I had had that information for my case, but I can only speak personally as—especially as a white, upper-middle-class female, I think I should have done that. But for many other people, based on, you know, immigrant documentation status or communities of color, going forward to the police is an incredibly different thing than for a white person to go to the police, for a variety of reasons that we can talk more about. And so, I think so much of this process is about a survivor reclaiming agency over themselves and their decisions, and so I support each survivor’s decision. I just—in my case, if I had had that information, I would have been able to collect the evidence when it existed. Five days later, the bruises were gone.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, at that time, you did not go to the police.
LENA SCLOVE: No, I did not go to the police until February.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the administration?
LENA SCLOVE: I went immediately to the administration. Within two weeks, I had filed an official complaint with the Office of Student Life at Brown University, because I had been told by various advisers that it would be a much faster process, it would keep me safe, I would not be cross-examined during the hearing, and—and that ultimately I would see justice much faster and in a much more humane way than the criminal justice system would handle it.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, let me talk about what the president said, of Brown.
LENA SCLOVE: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! contacted Brown University’s president, Christina Paxson, and other officials who played a role in the case. Through a spokesperson, they all declined to join us, directing us to the letter from President Paxson, which states, quote, "To be clear, sexual assault at Brown is not tolerated. Every student at Brown has the right to feel safe from the threat of sexual violence. Students who report being the victims of sexual misconduct receive substantial support from deans, counselors, or advocates. In cases where a crime may have been committed, the student is counseled about options for filing a criminal complaint." President Paxson also said that Brown is accelerating a planned review of its policies and procedures. Lena Sclove, can you respond to that statement?
LENA SCLOVE: First of all, I think it was very poor choice in wording to say sexual assault is not tolerated on this campus a week after my press conference, which clearly demonstrates that it is, because the vice president of the university was the one who denied my appeal—and we can get to that—about the sanctions, and the president of the university was quite aware of my case at the time, being CCed on emails. So, clearly, there is a tolerance for it. So I do not believe that statement.
As for moving forward, that was going to happen anyways. Every five years, the code of conduct is up for review. This is the year. So, the fall, they were going to redo the code of conduct and the sexual misconduct policy anyways.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about what happens. You reported to the administration.
LENA SCLOVE: I report to the administration. You know, there’s a hearing on October 11th. Witnesses are present there. You know, he has this whole document of a whole different—different night that is not what happened. And there’s a panel of a professor, a dean and a student. Now, they make the findings. The findings are final. They make recommendations for the sanctions. A week later, on October 18th, I get a letter with a decision that he has been found responsible by the panel for all four violations and that the sanction is he will be suspended until fall 2014. At that time, he will be allowed to re-apply for re-admission.
I immediately am shocked that, you know, this is the case. I assume he will appeal. He does not appeal. I do appeal. The appeal process is three weeks long. In that time, they allow him to stay on campus, even though at least he is suspended until the fall because he did not appeal. In his statement that he released saying it was consensual, I just have to ask: If it was consensual, why did not—why did you not appeal? If you’re so sure this is all a lie, you got the sanctions, why didn’t you appeal? So, that is baffling to me. But meanwhile, he was still living on campus, attending classes until just before Thanksgiving, when I was notified in person by the vice president of Brown University that they would not grant my appeal based on past precedent. And by then, I only had three weeks left of the semester and this semester, before he would be returning.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, the panel recommended two years—
LENA SCLOVE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —that he be suspended.
LENA SCLOVE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What actually was the final decision?
LENA SCLOVE: So the panel makes recommendations for the findings, and then the senior associate dean of the Office of Student Life makes the final decision. So he brought it down from two years to one year. And when I appealed the decision, I spoke about that. It’s very peculiar that I was given the information about that findings, because generally students are not told what the panel recommended. So, that’s still a question up in the air of why I was given that information. I was given that information. I cited that in the appeal letter. And the vice president upheld the senior associate dean’s decision, only adding a probationary period as sort of a consolation prize of saying, "We are allowing him back in the fall, but he will be on probation," meaning he will have to check in with deans, you know, once a month or something just to make sure he’s doing OK. And he will—and you’ll have a no-contact order, which essentially means he can’t talk to me. It’s a very weak form of a restraining order.
AMY GOODMAN: Your injuries?
LENA SCLOVE: My injuries, PTSD, for one, immediately after, noise sensitivity and all of that. But physically, during finals, starting December 14th, I began to have migraines. I had a migraine for two weeks straight. Right before Christmas, I woke up with a lump on the back of my spine. We thought it was a tumor. We freaked out. We went to the doctor. It turned out it was—the lumbar spine and the cervical spine are very connected. It was a cervical spine injury as a result of being strangled. So I, from basically late December to early February, was not able to walk without help. I could not climb stairs and have just begun—you know, now I’m able to walk and sit here and be mobile, but I’m in a great deal of back pain all day long. I still cannot run, dance, do yoga or all of the many things that I did before this assault as a very active person.
AMY GOODMAN: And the panel found your assailant responsible for sexual misconduct that involves one or more of the following: penetration, violent physical force or injury.
LENA SCLOVE: And all three were the case in my—in my case.
AMY GOODMAN: Ultimately, although the dean commuted the punishment to one year, a suspension, he, the student, has decided not to return to Brown?
LENA SCLOVE: Correct. His attorney released that in a statement to The Brown Daily Herald last week.
AMY GOODMAN: After your news conference?
LENA SCLOVE: After my news press conference and after many reporters had covered the issue and his name had been released based on the police report.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Lena Sclove, who is a Brown student who went to her university reporting that she had been raped and strangled. And you’ve heard the story of what happened. When we come back, we will also be joined by Wagatwe Wanjuki to talk about what happened to her at Tufts and to talk about the wider campaign. Both Lena and Wagatwe will talk about what’s happening on college campuses around the country to protect people from sexual abuse and rape. Stay with us.