Justice for Lena

Trigger Warning: This article and Lena’s testimony include graphic depictions of sexual assault, violence and trauma.

Photo by Cynthia Fong
Photo by Cynthia Fong

Earlier today, Brown University student, Lena Sclove, returned to campus to discuss the University’s unacceptable response to her sexual assault that occurred during the fall semester of 2013.

Lena was accompanied by her parents, Marcie and Richard Sclove, and the President of Road to Recovery, Inc., Robert M. Hoatson, Ph.D., who oversees a non-profit charity based in New Jersey that assists victims of sexual violence and their families. Friends, Brown students, and community members all gathered outside the Van Wickle Gates to hear her story.

On August 2, 2013, Lena was strangled twice and raped by a former friend, who is also a Brown University student. During the assault, she said “no” over seven times – she never once said “yes”. She had no doubt of the seriousness of the crime that had been committed against her, and reported the assault within two weeks to the Office of Student Life at Brown. Lena was assured that the hearing process would give her some form of justice.

On October 11, 2013, after an exhausting three months of meetings, Lena’s hearing was held. She notes that it was an “extremely long time to go to meetings while the rapist is still attending classes.” During this time, she was forced to see him while working in the campus center, studying in libraries, and eating in the dining halls; she even points to the location of his dorm before the crowd.

On October 18, Lena was notified of the decision that resulted from the hearing. Her rapist was found responsible for four separate offenses under the Brown University student code of conduct. As a result of these findings, the university imposed the following sanction: suspension for one year. Lena’s rapist will be allowed back on campus in the fall of 2014.

Lena appealed this decision immediately. Her rapist did not leave campus until the end of the fall semester of 2013 – in reality, Lena was only given one semester of freedom and safety. During this semester, she was forced to take a medical leave because of a serious cervical spine injury that she sustained during the attack, which, as many traumatic injuries often do, took months to materialize. So, if Lena chooses to do so, she will be returning to campus at the same time as her rapist.

When the appeal was brought in front of Vice President Margaret Klawuun and other administrators, it was immediately rejected. The University claimed that the decision made was based on “past sanctions.” Klauwuun, in later meetings with Richard and Marcie Sclove, said that Brown’s reprimands were “in line” with Brown’s peer institutions. However, Richard Sclove reiterated that much of the information that he has seen reveals that Brown in fact expels students at a lower rate and with lengths of suspensions that are shorter compared to other universities.

Lena also emphasized the incredible amount of time and energy that it has taken her to go through with the hearing process, having to take a reduced course load in order to manage her time. She continued to say that this sacrifice is almost definitely not an option for many students whom she does not see as being as privileged as herself – she noted, “I am white, I am female and I should have had the best there is, and somehow, I still ended up screwed.”

Brown University and its disciplinary process have failed Lena, and other survivors and victims of sexual assault on this campus. It is clear that the University’s priority was to protect the rapist, and to protect itself. Lena said that the administration was supposed to “thank her for keeping the campus safe,” but now, the administration is trying to keep her rapist safe. Despite having on record a report of sexual assault against another woman on campus, her rapist still gets to graduate with a degree from an Ivy League institution. Lena, on the other hand, has very few options; she wants to finish her education and earn her degree, but she cannot come back to campus if her rapist is also here.

Hoatson, before introducing Lena, pointed to the importance of people’s support for her cause – “it is a sign to the rest of the Brown community and the city of Providence that we are not going to accept the sexual abuse of anyone – that that we will fight each and every time that it occurs.”

As Brown students, as faculty and staff, as other activists and non-activists who care about this issue, and as members of our communities, the first action that we can take is to spread Lena’s words and her story. Whether through letter-writing campaigns, phone-banking, social media, or other media and resources available to you, it is critical to let other Brown students, parents, alumni, community members, donors, and prospective students know the reality of the University’s response to sexual assault. Because this is not an isolated event.

This Facebook group was created recently by Lena, and will be used to communicate information about future actions and initiatives. Please join the group, and invite your friends as well.

Lena, in her final remarks, which can be viewed in full below, acknowledged that this issue, her story, is connected to other student activism that has been occurring on campus, “in terms of racism and immigration reform and climate change,” as well as others. She noted, “when we are fighting for justice, we are fighting for everyone.” So please speak up and fight for justice for Lena, and for survivors of sexual assault everywhere.

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