Redefining 'respect' to combat sexual assaults
Sexual Assault Awareness Month arrives in April with a continuing public discussion of the settlement last month of a case involving Hawkeye basketball player Pierre Pierce.
Karla Miller, executive director of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, worked with committees that reviewed the case and assessed campus climate regarding sexual assault. She suggests that the campus must learn from the case and accept a responsibility for educating all students and other University community members about the subject.
It is important to include as many people and perspectives as possible, she says, to add, adjust, enhance, and improve what we have currently so that we can arrive at effective, practical, and fair policies and procedures allowing us to support victims of crime and to help perpetrators have no more victims.
Miller has developed a draft model for cases involving criminal behavior and Code of Student Life violations for consideration by campus committees and the administration. In it, she suggests that several developmental issues need to be recognized.
Watch the definitions
She is concerned that the word respect is not defined in a universal way. For example, one definition of many younger people, conforming to ideas found in movies, television, music videos, and their peer group, equates respect with power, control, domination, and submission by one person or group over another. Sources of power and control include physical, financial, intellectual, emotional, and/or psychological superiority, she says.
While some might define respect as honor, others see respecting others as a weakness.
If you think respect means fearing someone, how do you interpret the message, You need to respect women and children? Miller says.
To write effective procedures, it is imperative that we understand this, she says. Without first teaching a definition more in line with the dictionary definition, all the information we impart will be filtered through that respect-equals-fear paradigm.
Students also live in a world where boundaries of acceptable danger are being pushed back or erased, Miller says. Some people accept the premise that it is a good and normal idea to have products students can use in the bar to test their drinks for date rape drugsas if its normal to expect that someone might poison your drink! Few discussions center on the problem of the widespread use and acceptance of these drugs as a means of raping women.
What Miller calls the high-level myths of sexual assault are exploited effectively by defense attorneys, she saysfor example, the myth that there is a high level of false or malicious reports by women or that women ask for rape.
Research shows the incidence of false reporting is no higher than for any other crime, and is probably less than most, she says.
Make policies clear
Under these circumstances, Miller says, its important to assure that the Universitys philosophy, policies, and procedures are clear in the context of the times and experiences of the students that theyre designed to reach.
Our sexual assault policy as it was written is really pretty good, she says. At the time it was written, it was pioneering. But offenders and defense lawyers have become more sophisticated and boundaries have changed. We need to be more specific about behaviors that will be sanctionedsexual assault, all forms of abuse, lies, deceitand the sanctions that will be used.
She also suggests educational programs for all faculty, staff members, coaches, and administrators.
Im not talking the one-half-day session that people are required to attend, she says. That doesnt work. We need commitment. We need to take a stand that we wont set up the situation as he said, she said any more. We do not have to choose campswe just need to focus on the behavior. We dont want any more victims.