Brown University Should Stand with Survivors – Not Rapists


TW: Depictions of sexual violence.

“I said no over seven times. I never said yes.”

On August 2, 2013 Brown University student Lena Sclove was brutally strangled and raped by a fellow classmate and once-thought-to-be close friend.  In the weeks following the assault, Lena filed a report with the Office of Student Life. The case, heard before Brown’s disciplinary board on October 11, resulted in a guilty verdict for the accused. Four misconduct charges were brought against him: actions that result in or can be reasonably expected to result in physical harm to a person or persons; sexual misconduct that involves non-consensual physical contact of a sexual nature; sexual misconduct that includes one or more of the following: penetration, violent physical force, or injury; illegal possession or use of drugs and/or alcohol and/or drug paraphernalia.

Upon determining that the accused was in fact guilty, the Student Conduct Board suggested a two-year suspension, allowing Sclove to complete her Brown education without living in close proximity to her rapist. Senior Associate Dean for Student Life Allen Ward reviewed the case and deemed the punishment too harsh. The sentence was reduced to a one-year suspension thus allowing readmission in fall 2014. Sclove immediately appealed the decision. Margaret Klawunn, interim dean of the College, rejected the appeal and cited other similar cases as precedent. The accused did not actually leave campus until the days leading up to Thanksgiving break, over a month after the hearing, effectively diminishing the suspension to a mere semester.

Some weeks later, in the weeks approaching finals, Lena awoke to discover a lump on her back—a significant cervical spine injury that resulted from the assault. Lena, bedridden and unable to walk for months, was forced to take a semester of medical leave.

On February 6th, during her time away from Brown, Sclove reported the incident to the Providence Police Department. To those of you who fervently question the delayed decision, I would like to point to a statement made by Sclove earlier this week. “I was really sort of encouraged that reporting to the University is much safer than going to the police and pursuing a criminal case,” she said.  Sclove now wishes she had gone to the police sooner, but, at the time, didn’t feel that it was a pursuable avenue. Providence police major David Lapatin urges victims to contact the police immediately. “Call the Providence Police, let us get there, you can have your choice after whether you wish to pursue criminal charges or not, but lets have everything in place first,” he said.

The case garnered national media attention after Sclove held a press conference in front of Brown’s iconic Van Wickle gates last Tuesday. Student activists joined forces to support Lena in her quest for justice as rape notoriously goes unnoticed and unpunished on so many campuses. The press conference prompted a university wide discussion on Brown’s sexual assault policy. Students, angry and disappointed by the university’s nonchalance, took it upon themselves to spearhead the movement for reform. Petitions began circulating the community, begging university administrator’s to put victims’ needs above perpetrators’. Students demanded a minimum two-year suspension for individuals convicted of sexual misconduct on campus, arguing that, furthermore, perpetrators should not be allowed to return until the victim has graduated.

Students attended a Brown University Community Council meeting on April 23rd to convince administrators to comply with their demands. Efforts were met with a promise to accelerate review of those portions of the Student Code of Conduct which relate to sexual assault.

President Christina Paxson issued a statement on Saturday afternoon regarding the issue of sexual assault on campus. “To be clear,” she writes, “sexual assault at Brown is not tolerated. Every student at Brown has the right to feel safe from the threat of sexual violence.” Students question the legitimacy of her claims as further along in the statement Paxson informs us “that the student accused of the assault has decided not to petition the University for readmission to Brown for next fall.” I have a lot of thoughts, the first of which is “excuse me?”

As a woman at Brown, I’m glad that a possible serial rapist will no longer be one of my peers, but I’m angry that it was his decision. If you rape someone (read: violently rape someone) you must lose your autonomy and your right to decide these things. You shouldn’t get to pick whether you still want to go to school with your victim. I do not wish to convey the idea that nonviolent rapists should be afforded these privileges or that victims of such rapes are less worthy of our empathy, support, love and solidarity, but I think it’s important to be extra critical of Brown’s actions regarding Sclove’s perpetrator since it was so blatantly nonconsensual. She was strangled and left unable to walk. In what sexual realm could this possibly be considered consensual activity?

I’m remiss to say that Brown’s administrators responsible for dealing with these issues are all talk. We must beg and plead and all but get on our hands and knees at their doorsteps before they grant us even an ounce of change. And this isn’t a particularly recent phenomenon either. The early ‘90s were a period of revolution at Brown. Women consistently went to the administration with complaints of sexual assault on campus. Deans brushed the accusations aside and only caved after the Rape Wall gained national momentum. In 1991, for the first time in Brown’s history, sexual misconduct was recognized as a punishable offense. Here we are, 14 years later, still plagued by the same problem.

But the rape epidemic is not exclusive to Brown. I think our university is under so much fire because of its prestige and its liberal, free-minded personality. It tends to attract a certain kind of student—a student that isn’t afraid to be loud in the name of justice.

Dartmouth. UC Berkley. Penn StateYale. The list goes on. All have demonstrated bad track records when it comes to dealing with sexual assault on campus. Whether it’s refusing to release statistics or implementing lax policies in punishing perpetrators, all are guilty of participating in the perpetuation of systemic rape culture, victim blaming, and slut shaming. It speaks to the larger societal belief that agency belongs to females/victims. It’s our job to prevent rape by dressing modestly and refusing to consume alcohol. It’s our fault for walking in certain parts and provoking men.

What were you wearing? Were you sober? Why didn’t you say no? Victims are constantly bombarded with a melody of ugly questions. And I’m tired of hearing it.

Brown needs to do better. I mean – society, in general, needs to do better, but it doesn’t bode well when one of the most progressive, forward thinking institutions sets such an example for the rest of the world to follow.

Step up your game, Brown. Injustice has reigned supreme on this campus for far too long.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: It should be noted that the perpetrator is allegedly a rapist and not necessarily a convicted rapist since he went through a university hearing and not a criminal investigation. That distinction does not demonstrate my belief as to whether or not he is guilty — it is simply a legal technicality that I would like to denote.

1 comment

  1. Yet another egregious example of why reporting rape and other violent crimes to university officials is a waste of time. Given the incidence of rape at prestigious universities, and the typical response of those universities to be concerned more with their reputation than the victims’ plight, the logical alternative is to report the crime to the local police. Certainly a criminal trial has public implications that will be uncomfortable for the victim, but the odds of achieving some measure of justice will be increased far more in a courtroom than in a hearing in front of university officials who think a one-years suspension is sufficient sanction for so brutal a crime. Indeed, Brown needs to “step up” its game, but it has a lot of company down there in the minor leagues of social justice.

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