Brown Sexual Assault Series: “A Letter to Christina Paxson”

Trigger Warning: This article includes references to sexual assault, violence and trauma.

In light of the Justice for Lena & Survivors of Sexual Assault Everywhere campaign, fronted by the brave Lena Sclove, Bluestockings Magazine will run an inaugural Brown Sexual Assault Series. We will be publishing various forms of testimonies about sexual violence, trauma and rape culture at Brown University. The series is an ongoing project to amplify the voices of survivors on-campus, provide them with a platform to recount their experiences, and to end the silence that stymies action and change.

If you would like to add your voice to the dialogue, please email blogbluestockings@gmail.comWe guarantee anonymity.

brown-sexual-assault-series

This letter is a response to a letter sent by President Christina Paxson to the Brown community. Unfortunately, it was not sent to students on leave, including, in particular, students who are on medical leave due to sexual assault the development of post-traumatic stress disorder or other post-trauma disorders.

President Christina Paxson 
Brown University 
Box 1860 
1 Prospect Street 
Providence, RI 02912 

April 26, 2014

Dear President Paxson,

I remember the moment I learned I had been accepted to Brown University via early admission in Fall 2004; ripping open the acceptance letter from the mailbox and then running screaming with glee back to my house. I remember being so grateful for the full scholarship I received  because of my parents’ financial circumstances. I was so excited to attend such a prestigious University, whose vision appeared to be in line with my own forward-thinking progressive values. Attending Brown changed my life and I will forever be grateful for all of the wonderful opportunities I had as a student there. I had always hoped to be able to give back to the University at some point in the future when I became financially able. 

Thus, it saddened me deeply to learn Brown’s policies were not as forward thinking as I had thought. I was baffled and shocked to learn that the punishment for violently raping and strangling a fellow student was basically a slap on the wrist– that is being forced to take off a semester or two of college. Since 50% of individuals who are sexually assaulted develop posttraumatic stress disorder (Creamer et al., 2001; Rothbaum et al., 1992), the punishment of a relatively brief suspension clearly does not fit the magnitude of the crime. When I received the letter from you in my email inbox today, I was even more dismayed by the University’s response to the recently publicized rape that occurred on our campus. 

Although I appreciate preventative measures are critical in the University’s response to sexual assault on campus, the proposed measures in your letter felt like a bandage for a larger problem. While I agree alcohol often plays a role in sexual violence, research demonstrates alcohol is not the cause of rape. Rather, rapists are the cause of rape. Consistently across studies, 20-50% of college-aged men report having engaged in unwanted sexual activity at some point during their lives (Abbey & McAuslan, 2004; Abbey et al., 2012; Hall et al., 2006; Loh et al., 2005; White & Smith, 2004), with about 9% repeatedly engaging in unwanted sexual activity (these acts ranged in severity from forced sexual touching to forced sexual intercourse). Here, men used alcohol as their main tool for engaging in sex with a reluctant partner (Littleton & Axsom, 2003). Clearly, alcohol is involved; however, this is a problem of cultural norms where men are allowed and encouraged to push sexual boundaries. While I appreciate you stating: “sexual assault at Brown is not tolerated”, the very minimal punishments student perpetrators receive belie your commitment to actually reducing sexual assault on campus. If rape was not tolerated on campus, then students found to be rapists would be expelled.

This is not to say Brown is alone in failing survivors of sexual assault on its campus. Clearly, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Amherst, and other peer institutions have all been in the news for mishandling sexual assault cases. But, I have hopes for Brown! I think Brown can be a leader in this area, not only among the Ivies, but also for all colleges and universities in this country. Brown can take an honest look at institutional policies that allow rape to occur with relatively minimal punishments on its campus. Brown can develop clearer and more severe punishments for sexual assault perpetrated by members of its community. Brown can send a clear message: this type of behavior will not be tolerated and perpetrators will not be allowed to complete their education at the University. If you rape someone, you should be expelled. This may seem extreme, but the punishment fits the crime and it sends a clear message to all that the University  is serious about preventing rape and removing rapists from our community. There are many other areas to address, but I think this is an important first step that would communicate the University’s commitment to solving this very complex challenge.

Sincerely,

Anne N. Banducci, M.S. 
Class of 2008, Sc.B. 
Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology 
1147 Biology/Psychology Building 
University of Maryland, College Park 
College Park, MD 20742 
Anne.Banducci@gmail.com 


References:

Abbey, A., & McAuslan, P. (2004). A longitudinal examination of male college students’ perpetration of sexual assault. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72, 747–756.

Abbey, A., Wegner, R., Pierce, J., & Jacques-Tiura, A. J. (2012). Patterns of sexual aggression in a community sample of young men: Risk factors associated with persistence, desistance, and initiation over a 1-year interval. Psychology Of Violence, 2(1), 1-15.

Creamer, M., Burgess, P. P., & McFarlane, A. C. (2001). Post-traumatic stress disorder: Findings from the Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Well-Being. Psychological Medicine: A Journal Of Research In Psychiatry And The Allied Sciences, 31(7), 1237-1247.

Flack, W. F., Daubman, K. A., Caron, M. L., Asadorian, J. A., D’Aureli, N. R., Gigliotti, S. N., Stine, E. R. (2007). Risk factors and consequences of unwanted sex among university students: Hooking up, alcohol, and stress response. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22,139-157.

Hall, G. C. N., DeGarmo, D. S., Eap, S., Teten, A. L., & Sue, S. (2006). Initiation, desistance, and persistence of men’s sexual coercion. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 732–742.

Littleton, H. L., & Axsom, D. (2003). Rape and seduction scripts of university students: Implications for rape attributions and unacknowledged rape. Sex Roles, 49, 465– 475.

Loh, C., Gidycz, C. A., Lobo, T. R., & Luthra, R. (2005). A prospective analysis of sexual assault perpetration: Risk factors related to perpetrator characteristics. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 20, 1325–1348.

Rothbaum, B. O., Foa, E. B., Riggs, D. S., Murdock, T., & Walsh, W. (1992). A prospective examination of post-traumatic stress disorder in rape victims. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 5, 455–475.

White, J. W., & Smith, P. H. (2004). Sexual assault perpetration and re-perpetration: From adolescence to young adulthood. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 31, 182–202.

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