Columbia University will release data about sexual assault complaints after pressure from students, President Lee Bollinger announced Wednesday afternoon. Columbia is the latest in a string of prestigious universities facing student action and scrutiny over the way it handles assaults on campus.
The controversy came to a head when Columbia’s student magazine, The Blue and White, launched an in-depth series featuring stories from assault victims last week. In the first installment, a junior who was raped by a close friend described her decision to report to the school rather than the police: “I heard so many horrible stories about how badly the police handle cases like these. Columbia also advertises its resources so much that I thought they would really listen to me. I thought I would be taken care of.”
Instead, the accused rapist stayed at school and faced little consequences after a drawn out deliberation process during which he repeatedly postponed the hearing. She later found out he had assaulted another student, who also opened a case against the same man with no result. While he was undergoing the hearing, the B&W reports, he assaulted a third woman. After this third report, the school finally sanctioned him with “disciplinary probation” — essentially a slap on the wrist and a warning for him not to do it again. He appealed the sanction and got the charge dismissed a few months later.
Bollinger’s plan to fix this system includes rolling out a new website to improve reporting and information access, and planning forums with students to discuss the problems.
The stories detailed in B&W unfortunately fit a broader trend in the growing pile of college sexual assault data. The White House’s new report on sexual assault found that nearly two-thirds of rapists on college campuses are serial offenders, with an average of six rapes each. Across campuses, accused rapists rarely face consequences, while victims report being met with indifference or disbelief from school officials. As more and more students speak out, however, schools are feeling pressure to shift that status quo.