In early December two years ago, I was waiting to hear back from the Office of Student Ethics and Conflict Resolution (OESCR) about the results of my sexual assault investigation.
I reported an incident from my sophomore year. I didn’t know if reporting was the right thing to do, because while the incident met one of the standard definitions of sexual assault (“unwanted sexual” contact), it wasn’t rape.
It took me awhile to realize maybe I had been assaulted, and much longer to stop hanging out with the guy I reported. But my friends and Title IX office employees assured me the incident was worth reporting, and I did.
The guy was found “not responsible” of violating the Student Code of Conduct, meaning a panel of OESCR judges believed what happened was consensual.
This time of year is difficult for me. I re-watch a lot of “Gilmore Girls” and subscribe to the New York Times crossword puzzle app and start working on my finals early. I don’t sleep a lot. I don’t like to have any time at which my mind is empty enough to wander back to what was going on two years ago.
I wrote a column last week that criticized Miami’s handling of the aftermath of sexual assault and harassment. It didn’t go to print. It was very angry, and something I’d been thinking about for a long time.
I am still very angry about my situation, and angry about the way Miami has handled similar cases in the past (and recently). But over the course of the semester I’ve become slightly less angry — something I never thought would happen.
In one of my classes a few weeks ago, we discussed the #MeToo movement. Someone said they didn’t think enough progress had been made regarding women’s rights, and my professor told us that, while that feeling was valid, we had no idea how different things are now than when she was in college.
Title IX was signed into law in 1972. It prevents public institutions from discriminating against people “on the basis of sex,” and it’s become synonymous with university sexual assault policies.
In 1986, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Crime Statistics Act, better known as the Clery Act, was enacted. The law is named for a 19-year-old woman who was raped and murdered in her Lehigh University dorm, and requires all universities in the country to disclose on-campus crimes and establish safety policies.
In 1992, Congress passed the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights. Basically, it ensures that all sexual assault survivors and the perpetrators they accuse have equal rights during investigations, and requires survivors to be given information about available resources.
In 2014, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act “updated” the Clery Act, strengthening its provisions about transparency, education and accountability.
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Of course, federal laws can’t prevent sexual assault any more than campus “It’s On Us” campaigns or sexual abuse being frowned upon in Miami’s Student Code of Conduct. But they’re a start. There were no laws against campus sexual assault when women first went to college. There were no laws against campus sexual assault 50 years ago.
In the 1970s, women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan urged women to put on “private fashion show(s)” for their husbands and to always “greet him with lavish affection” (in private, of course; in public, more muted displays of affection were acceptable and necessary).
1950s marriage advice was even worse; all women were to have the sex drive of a 19-year-old boy but not be “too sexual.” They were to look flawless and dress impeccably, lest their man leave them for someone else (but if they did, it wouldn’t be the man’s fault. Obviously).
Now, women write freely and unapologetically in outlets like Teen Vogue and Refinery29 about periods, mental health and sex—good, bad and in-between. I’ve never read an article that encouraged me to prioritize my boyfriend’s needs or wants above my own, or one that told me to put anything before my mental health.
Sweeping cultural change takes generations to take effect. Women fought tirelessly from 1848 until the 19th Amendment was passed 72 years later.
Laws like Title IX and the Clery Act, along with social movements like #MeToo and the testimonies of women like Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford, are creating social change. They’ve given women the support and words they need to speak out, which we didn’t always have.
To be clear, I am still angry. I think if anyone isn’t angry (or at least frustrated) with the way universities still handle sexual harassment perpetrated by students and faculty, they aren’t reading enough news.
But things used to be much, much worse. And, though I hate to be overly optimistic, I think they’re getting better.