Jaclyn Friedman has been been an anti-rape activist ever since she survived a campus sexual assault as an undergrad. She's the author of What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl's Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety
I was proud to see my alma mater, Emerson College, on the Department of Education’s list of 55 campuses under investigation for their mishandling of sexual violence on campus.
Obviously, I’m not thrilled that the university is accused of mishandling rape cases. But I’m proud that students at Emerson expect the best from our school, and refuse to settle for less. In my work with campuses across the country, I often hear that students who’ve spoken out about being raped on campus are facing the wrath of their fellow students in the dining hall, in the campus newspaper, at parties, online. The charge is always the same: disloyalty.
But is it disloyal to keep a drunk friend from driving? Or to tell a spouse a difficult truth? Telling the people and institutions we care about that they’re hurting us and themselves is tough love, but it really is love. On the other hand, when we ask victims to whisper so that no one thinks ill of our alma mater, we’re asking them to give up their access to justice and healing, that ultimately hurts the very institutions we claim to be defending. That’s the true disloyalty.
Most campus rapes are committed by a small number of perpetrators who pursue victim after victim unless they’re stopped. When we squelch victims’ efforts to hold our schools accountable, it leaves those repeat offenders free to attack again. That leads to campuses with more rape, and more victims whose trauma keeps them from fully pursuing their own education and contributing to the college community in all the ways that can make a campus great.
When it comes to addressing campus rape, the financial incentives for schools are inverted: schools that succeed at suppressing victim reporting benefit from the impression that they don’t have a “rape problem,” while the schools that encourage reporting risk a bad reputation and drop in donations. The way to change that dynamic is to raise the cost of schools sweeping it under the rug.
That’s why speaking out is not only brave, but actually fiercely loyal. Students who speak up about rape on campus are saying: I know my campus can be better than this. I believe my campus can be great, and I’m willing to sacrifice to make it so. And that’s why the students who brought a federal case against my alma mater are the best Emersonians I know.
(You can read more opinions in TIME’s special report: Ending Campus Sexual Assault and get the full story in this week’s cover article by Eliza Gray: The Sexual Assault Crisis on American Campuses.)