Elephant in the Room Part III: Campus Police

We have heard many stories about how rape and sexual assault on college campuses go largely ignored, how campus police often victim blame or don’t follow up on investigations, or even how people found guilty of sexual assault are not adequately punished.

I have witnessed this kind of thing as well. After a good friend of mine was consistently harassed by a male classmate, along with many other women in the same class, they went to the University administrators and filed an official complaint. The problem was, the man doing the harassing was well connected, and was the son of rich and litigious parents. After an hour’s worth of grilling from a panel of administrators, who asked the women if they had yelled “no” and/or “stop it” to their abuser loudly and forcefully enough, they concluded that they did not adequately convey the message that his advances were unwanted, that his rape threats were not threatening enough, and that any further action or public discussion of the matter on their part could result in them being sued.

On this matter, the Center for Public Integrity states:

Students found “responsible” for sexual assaults on campus often face little or no punishment from school judicial systems, while their victims’ lives are frequently turned upside down, according to a year-long investigation by the Center for Public Integrity. Administrators believe the sanctions administered by the college judiciary system are a thoughtful way to hold abusive students accountable, but the Center’s probe has discovered that “responsible” findings rarely lead to tough punishments like expulsion — even in cases involving alleged repeat offenders.

The emphasis is mine, because that is the part that always gets to me, including in the case in which this happened to my friend. I couldn’t get around the giant elephant in the room that no one seemed to be addressing, nor did any of the victims think of this when I brought it up.


Why is any of this being handled by the University at all? Why is there such a thing as an “investigation by campus police”? Are Universities somehow little independent countries within cities, like Vatican City or San Marino?

Isn’t rape and sexual assault just as illegal on school campuses, and thus just as much under the jurisdiction of local law enforcement, as it is if it happens anywhere else?

Tough punishment like expulsion? Really? How about tough punishment like a freaking jail sentence?! Am I missing something here? Can someone please explain to me why campus police exist?

I understand the benefit of having security in a place like a college campus, like there is security at a shopping mall or a club. It can be beneficial to have trained security personnel at a location with many people and/or in a place where many are drinking. But if a rape happens in a store or in a club, you don’t report it to the security guard and meekly accept the supermarket or the club’s ultimate decision on the matter. You don’t content yourself with them banning the offender from the store. You call the fucking police, because rape and sexual assault is illegal. It is not a matter of plagiarism, or some other breaking of school rules which are not applicable to the real world. It is a fucking crime, and what business do campus security and college administrators have investigating and passing judgement on real crimes? If a student is murdered on a school campus, do you report it to campus security and let them handle the investigation?

I feel like I must be missing something, because I have never heard this come up in any of the sexual assault on campus stories I have heard so far. But try as I might, I don’t understand why campus police and school administrators have so much goddamned authority over violent crimes that happen on campus, nor why you are supposed to report such things to them rather than to normal law enforcement, as if you are filing a complaint about your roommate playing their music too loud when you’re trying to study. Can someone please explain this to me? Or is it just one of those examples of our society not thinking that sexual assault is that big of a deal?

I mentioned murder before, because it would be inconceivable to imagine that a murder on a college campus would be investigated by anyone other than police. I remember when a drug addict looking for money broke into a student’s dorm room at my University and crushed the student’s trachea when he was discovered, and the police was called immediately to receive his statement. Murder, assault, that is all reported and handed over to the police, but date rape? Sexual assault? No no, the protocol is an internal investigation, and if the student is expelled, well then, justice is served.

What bullshit.


  1. says

    I’m pretty sure this has to do with Title IX laws, which I am not very familiar with. I think students can report to law enforcement, but schools are also required to provide their own investigation process. The fact that students are going through the schools rather than police suggests either they don’t know their options, or that they prefer the school investigation. I found one survivor-led organization that argues that it is better this way.

    Speaking personally, I had an attachment to my perpetrator, and would have opposed any punishment to him. I never reported, but if I did, I would have preferred the softer investigation with softer punishment. Really what I would like to see are not stronger punishments, but more consistent punishments, better treatment of survivors/victims, and better prevention.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      I understand that some victims do not want to press criminal charges against their attacker, and I understand that the college can pursue separate action, similar to what would happen in a workplace, regardless of the law. However, in the case of my friend (which, by the way happened in Ireland, so this is not about Title IX laws) she was specifically told by the Uni that this was a school matter, not a police one, and that her talking about it outside of the confidential school setting could result in her being sued by her attacker for defamation of character. Beyond that, it is common for student to report the assault internally, and be told that there is no legitimacy to their claims, or that there is but that the attacker is not going to face any real consequences, which is what the Center for Public Integrity found.
      Of course better transparency, treatment of victims and prevention would be fantastic, and I’m not suggesting that all victims have to report to the police. What I am saying is that having internal investigations and decisions be the standard protocol is flawed. If a student does not want to press criminal charges they don’t have to, regardless of where the assault occurs. If the student wants some protection from their attacker without pressing criminal charges, there should be a crisis center on campus where they can get the help and support they need. But to have the standard procedure be to let the college know, and let them decide what to do, and to basically discourage outside involvement into school matters with a lack of transparency and a lot of discretion over how to handle violent criminal cases is, I think, contributing to the problem enormously.
      What I would like to see is something closer to what happens (or should happen) in hospitals. A person goes in for treatment after a sexual assault, and is advised to report it to the police. If they do not want to, they are told of their other options (therapy, support groups, the possibility of filing a restraining order, etc.) But colleges have an incentive to not help victims pursue justice, it hurts their bottom line if word gets out that rape is happening on their campus, and this leads to a cloud of secrecy, downplaying sexual assault and shady internal investigations which, I think, have gotten way out of hand and are allowing colleges far too much leeway when deciding what is and is not a crime.

      • says

        Yeah naturally I am not familiar with Irish law. Sounds pretty awful. Sounds like the school is lying to students about their options.

        In an ideal world, it would make the most sense for investigative procedures to be centralized under a single system. Unfortunately in the real world, that system, law enforcement, handles it quite poorly. And while universities offer an alternative procedure, they hardly do better.

        • thoughtsofcrys says

          Rather than outright lying, they set up the whole reporting process as though there was no other option, and that they were the only source of justice available. I see this happening a lot, which is why I posted what I did, because I see so many people completely forgetting that the college does not rule their lives, that they still live in the world the rest of us live in.
          The thing is, it is perfectly natural for a student, who is usually living on their own for the first time, to turn to the school like they would to a parent when they have been victimized and they don’t know what to do. That is why the onus is entirely on colleges not to take advantage of that to keep the whole affair on the hush hush, but rather to counsel that victim and take the action that they want, not the action that is best for the college.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      And also, let me be clear, of course the college should be able to respond quickly to the claim and expel the attacker in order to protect the victim. Universities have the ability to expel and/or discipline students for any number of infractions, for many degrees of severity. I understand from the link you posted that Title IX is about civil rights and preventing gender discrimination, and that’s great, more of that, but I also have the feeling that it has been somewhat perverted by colleges and that they are hiding behind it in order to protect themselves from the bad reputation of having rampant sexual assault on their campuses.
      Now the fact that police also suck at investigating rape is also true, though a whole other can of worms.

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