April 17, 2014

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The Danger of Rape Culture Denial

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To the Editor:

Re: “THROWDOWN THURSDAY: The Truth About Rape Culture,” Opinion, April 17

We disagree with the decision to publish “The Truth About ‘Rape Culture,’” by Julius Kairey ’15. Kairey blatantly disrespected a sensitive subject by reducing and delegitimizing the scarring experiences of survivors. This newspaper erred in publishing this article and should now also take responsibility for the harmful, triggering effects that articles like these cause. We hope that in the future, the Cornell Daily Sun makes a conscious effort to ensure that their columnists treat subjects like sexual assault with respect. We call for an apology from Kairey and the Cornell Daily Sun.

Kairey’s argument rests on the contention that the oft-cited statistic “one in four women” is exaggerated, without realizing that the sheer stigma rape survivors face ensures that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. But even without concrete numbers, the trend is clear: Universities across the country are discouraging survivors from reporting, refusing to investigate complaints and shielding perpetrators from punishment. While he attempts to position himself as rational, Kairey never mentions the mishandling of rape cases and Title IX investigations at Amherst, Occidental College, UC Berkeley, Florida State University, the University of Chicago, Harvard University and Yale University. He never discusses how the entire town of Steubenville, Ohio bullied a rape victim into silence or how Rehtaeh Parsons ended her life when her classmates and peers circulated images of her rape instead of defending her.

Rape culture describes the systematic denial of justice for victims of sexual assault: The deck is always stacked against the survivor, and the ignorant defend this status quo. Those, like Kairey, who have the power to create change by advocating for survivors instead choose to ignore their voices, erase their rights and refuse to hold perpetrators accountable.

The recent changes made to the Judicial Code are an effort to combat rape culture by granting sexual assault survivors the protection and equal footing that has, in the past, only been available to perpetrators. Victims are no longer cross-examined because those coping with the psychological and emotional trauma of sexual assault simply won’t come forward if they are interrogated by their rapist. The burden of proof was lowered because evidence is often so scarce that “clear and convincing” is an impossible standard.

Kairey expresses concern for the “wrongfully convicted,” but doesn’t acknowledge that most cases end in settlements, with “no-contact orders” and mandatory counseling for the accused. Suspensions are unusual, and expulsions are extremely rare. Instead of empathizing with survivors, Kairey uses inflamed rhetoric and fear mongering to assert that the new changes to policy will convict innocent persons. This is an empty assertion that is never supported by any facts, statistics, or anecdotes.

According to Kairey, dialogue about “what constitutes consent and rape” is the solution. While open conversation is important, it cannot be secondary to or a substitute for action. His column misses the obvious: Violent crimes are occurring on campuses nationwide, while universities, and students, aren’t doing enough to stop them.

Leah Salgado ’12

Bridgette Wunder ’14

Gavin Zhang ’15

Melissa Lukasiewicz ’14

Lianne Bornfeld ’15

Michelle Huang ’14

Christine Yu ’14

Srinath Reddy ’14

Shuangyi Hou ’15

Kirat Singh ’14

Juliana Batista ’16

Jevan Hutson ’16

Ihsan Kabir ’14

Emma Court ’15

Jesse McElwain ’14