Since April, the White House has focused some much needed attention on the rape and sexual assault epidemics that occur on college campuses all across America. Survivors of sexual assault are often blamed and/or ignored when they a file a case against the perpetrator, and the number of survivors who never speak up or take action after the attack is alarmingly high.
As many as 55 colleges are under investigation for the way they handle its sexual assault cases. James Madison University, located in Harrisonburg, Virginia is one of them.
I am shocked at how JMU was able to get away with this sexual assault “punishment”: Three fraternity members sexually assaulted another student, Sarah Butters, during their 2013 spring break, shared a video of the attack and are only expelled from campus after they graduate.
Butters bravely came forward shortly after the attack in April 2013. Before attempting to reason with the three attackers, whom she formerly considered friends, she contacted the school’s judicial affairs office, who told her they were “in no rush” to press charges.
During this time, the video circulated around campus and online gossip forums. Butters received a copy of the video and sent it to the judicial affairs office to persuade them to press charges with or without her help.
In the video, Butters is clearly heard as stating, “this isn’t okay... this isn’t a good idea,” while the attack takes place. The head of judicial affairs at JMU, Josh Bacon, then told Butters that after watching the video, he couldn’t tell if it was consensual.
JMU eventually put forth a decision this January, nearly a year after the assault took place, to allow two of the attackers to graduate in May and thereafter ban them from university grounds, while allowing the last attacker to remain on campus for his senior year. After he graduates in 2015, he too will be banned from campus. No other legal action has been pursued on part of the school.
I was born and raised in Virginia. I know several people and have many friends who attend JMU. The fact that an attacker who has such substantial evidence against him is still allowed to roam campus is not only disgusting, but also very scary. My friends are on the same campus as this guy. My friends have the same lack of support and protection as Sarah Butters. It is disconcerting to think that the same thing could happen to them and the university would unlikely seek justice.
As of June 4, 2014, the university is one of five Virginia universities under investigation by the federal government for poor sexual assault policies. According to Huffington Post, JMU’s student handbook states that sexual assault is only grounds for suspension, not expulsion. Ridiculous policies like this will hopefully be the target for reform after the investigation.
This is hopefully just the beginning of the changes and improvements necessary for college students to feel as safe as possible on their campus, enjoying what should be the best four years of their lives. No one should have to worry about his or her safety just because university policy has yet to catch up with the 21st century.
Images via delawaresports.org, jmu.edu, huffingtonpost.com