CU Boulder student Sarah Gilchriese filed the complaint in May, alleging that school officials didn’t take the right steps to effectively punish the student who raped her. The Huffington Post reports that Gilchriese was sexually assaulted earlier this year, and her assailant was found guilty of “non-consensual sexual intercourse” after going through the university’s judicial process. But even though her assailant received an eight-month suspension, he wasn’t removed from campus for four months. During that time, he approached Gilchriese several times.
“I wanted this guy off campus forever,” Gilchriese explained. “I don’t want him near me, I don’t want him around me.”
But that turned out to be difficult under CU Boulder’s current policy. After his short suspension, Gilchriese’s assailant would be allowed to return to the university’s campus. He wasn’t required to do anything else other than pay a $75 code of conduct fine and write a five-page essay. And CU Boulder doesn’t allow students to appeal conduct code sanctions, so Gilchriese was out of options.
Frustrated, Gilchriese started reaching out to other student activists. When she learned that students across the country were fighting back against their universities’ lackluster sexual assault policies by filing federal complaints with the U.S. Department of Education, she decided to do the same. “My hope,” Gilchriese said of the wave of student-led activism, “is that they change policies so all other victims past and present can be protected and not have to relive their trauma every day.”
Unfortunately, Gilchriese’s experience isn’t an anomaly. On college campuses throughout the U.S., serial rapists are often able to evade punishment because school administrators have lenient policies for dealing with sexual assault. Many schools give light sentences to rapists, like social probation or academic penalties, instead of kicking them off campus. Sexual assault prevention activists often pressure colleges to stiffen their mandatory minimum sentences for students found guilty of assault. Recently, Duke students saw success in this area when administrators agreed to update the university’s policy so that students who have committed sexual crimes will always be expelled.
In addition to pressuring administrators to more seriously punish rapists, campus activists are also pressuring the federal government to more seriously punish colleges that can’t figure out how to get their sexual assault policies right. On Monday, college students rallied in front of the U.S. Department of Education, encouraging the federal government to effectively enforce Title IX and crack down more firmly on colleges that are violating it.