In the year of our Lord 2017, it is hard to understand how an unfamiliar man could breeze past security in a college dorm carrying a parcel, much less an unconscious woman, without ever being stopped or reported.
Did the guard at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Johnson Hall give the man a jaunty wave early on the morning of Feb. 24? Or offer to lend him a hand? Or ever even consider that this non-student might have some non-good intentions?
The woman, whom security footage shows was passed out and missing a shoe when she was carried in, later accused 22-year-old Juan Contreras, who lives in Colorado, of drugging and raping her. He has been charged with rape in the first degree. So, how did college officials react after the fact?
Alas, as though such a thing had never before been reported on a college campus.
First, university spokesman John Martellaro told the school newspaper that whatever occurred “is not necessarily a security issue because the victim went out willingly with the suspect. It was after socializing that she was taken advantage of, or raped, whatever you might call it.”
As though women can’t possibly be raped by men with whom they’ve willingly gone to a club?
When students complained, the spokesman said he’d been “clumsy” in his wording and should have made clear that “rape is rape, and it is a terrible crime.”
But even his apology didn’t address the misimpression that rape never follows “socializing.”
Students were also rightly angry that they had to read about a report of such a serious crime in The Kansas City Star rather than in an urgent text message from campus security or administrators.
And again, this is not all-new territory for colleges. In fact, this is supposedly a time of widespread overreaction, in which guilt is assumed and the rights of the accused ignored.
It has been almost seven years since 19-year-old Lizzy Seeberg took her own life 10 days after reporting she’d been sexually assaulted by a never-benched football player at my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. Police finally interviewed the player five days after her death. (Oh, she, too, had willingly socialized with the man, Prince Shembo, who was back in the news two years ago when he was charged with felony aggravated cruelty to an animal after his girlfriend accused him of killing her dog. But according to those who saw and heard from Lizzy the night she told a friend and her therapist that she was assaulted, she was also in a full-blown panic attack about what followed.)
It has been five years since a female cadet at the U.S. Naval Academy was treated like a pariah there after accusing three football players of sexually assaulting her at an off-campus party. Walking across campus with her was like walking around with a ghost.
It was four years ago that defense attorneys asked the cadet at an open hearing if she’d worn a bra to the party, whether she “felt like a ho” the next morning, and how wide she opens her mouth during oral sex. After 20 hours of cross-examination over four days, one defense attorney even accused her of faking exhaustion to get a day off: “What was she going to be doing anyway? Something more strenuous than sitting in a chair. We don’t concede there’s been any stress involved.” (One of the three men was put on trial, and he was found not guilty.)
That was then? Yes, but it was just a year ago that a former Stanford swimmer was sentenced to only six months for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman right out in the open by a dumpster outside a frat party — a violation the student athlete’s father referred to as “20 minutes of action.”
And it’s right this minute that Baylor University remains up to its chin in allegations of 52 rapes by football players over four years’ time. Overreaction, did somebody say? Naturally, a school official referred to women who’d reported being raped as mentally ill; you guys need some new material.
I do, too, and am beyond sick of writing about violence against women, which is not a partisan issue, not some anti-male campaign, does not involve a pendulum swinging “too far in the other direction” and is not at all difficult to know how to deal with. UMKC’s chancellor issued a vague statement acknowledging that “gaps exist” and will somehow be addressed.
Just investigate this serious crime in a serious way. Finding out what happened in each and every case is the answer to both the problem and the perceived overreaction to it; investigate fully and immediately. The ubiquity of social media and perps so proud they memorialize their handiwork makes the phrase “he said, she said” more of a cop-out than ever. There is often a lot of electronic evidence and of a pattern of behavior.
Keep students informed — right away, as if their safety were more important than your crisis management strategy.
And do try to refrain from making statements that make it sound as though everything you think you know about reports of rape you got from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” or maybe “Last Tango in Paris.”