Our View: University of Alabama must take action to stop sexual assaultBy CW Editorial Board | 06/27/2017 6:31pm
Sexual assault has been brought to the forefront of campus dialogue once again. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common occurrence that The University of Alabama has chosen to ignore time and time again.
A recent article published by Buzzfeed News told the story of former student Megan Rondini, who accused T.J. Bunn Jr., a member of a prominent Tuscaloosa family, of sexual assault. Ultimately, Rondini was failed by the larger justice system of Tuscaloosa, but most importantly to this publication, by The University of Alabama. Her story, while devastating, revealed many of the inadequacies of the Tuscaloosa Police Department and UA policy regarding sexual assaults that many Alabama women already know too well. Too many women each year are forced to go through the same trials of victim blaming and inadequate support that ultimately cost Rondini her life.
The Crimson White has written numerous pieces about sexual assault in recent years. The staff has dedicated months of reporting to the issue, and multiple opinions pieces have commented on the ineffectiveness of the seemingly perpetual PR campaigns like It’s On Us that seem to never bring about any actual change in University policy. The students in SGA who run programs like It’s On Us and advocacy groups such as Not On My Campus and UA Feminist Caucus try semester after semester, year after year, to chip away at that glaring statistic: one in four college women will be sexually assaulted, along with one in sixteen men. Their efforts should not go unrecognized or unappreciated. The University should be proud that it has such dedicated, community-minded students continually attempting to make this University the place of inclusivity it claims to be. But pride simply isn’t enough anymore. No student group could have made the path any easier for Rondini. Who could have, and should have done this, is the University administration itself.
There are so many sexual assault policies that we could focus on as areas for change and improvement within the administration, many of which are detailed in our past op-ed on University sexual assault policy. DCH, the only major hospital in the area, employs no sexual assault nurse examiners, or SANEs, who are specially trained to gather crucial forensic evidence when an individual comes in to be treated for rape. As the article stated, employing SANEs is a procedure recommended by the Department of Justice and many leading medical professionals. Though DCH is unaffiliated with the University, the administration must realize how crucial it is to students that this hospital has the adequate resources to deal with sexual assault. If The University is unwilling or unable to reach such an agreement with DCH, funding must be found to expand the Student Health Center to employ SANEs who are capable of administering the rape kits crucial to the prosecutions of sexual assault crimes. This is an issue of justice being improperly administered at the expense of the victim, and until the University recognizes and remedies this situation, any talk of wanting to create a campus culture free from sexual assault is simply lip service.
Additionally, the article elucidated archaic Alabama state laws that require that victims of sexual assault prove that they “earnestly resisted” their attackers. The law also states that if the victim drank alcohol of their own free will, it does not matter that they were intoxicated and thus unable to given consent when the assault occurred. Luckily, the University’s policy is not quite so regressive. Under UA's Title IX policy, it does not matter whether a student consumed alcohol of their own volition or not, and there is a special clause that makes clear that “a lack of resistance does not grant consent.” While we recognize the University can only go so far in influencing state policy, but it must be stated that an administration that does not actively fight against the cruel and archaic Alabama sexual assault state laws is one that cannot claim to truly care about its students. Action must be taken by the administration to leverage the influence it has over state legislators in this area of policy. If they do not, they all but ensure that individuals will continue to have to show bruises and contusions as “evidence” that they were raped.
The University released a statement in wake of the Buzzfeed article that they were “deeply saddened” by the death of Megan Rondini. They, of course, then proceeded to illuminate all the reasons why they were not truly at fault for what happened with her sexual assault and subsequent suicide. If they truly were “deeply saddened” by what happened to Rondini, and what happens to so many other women and men at the University every single year, they would not simply attempt to save face. They would reflect, revise and challenge themselves to grow and adapt so that no student is ever put through this again.
Our View represents the consensus of The Crimson White Editorial Board.