October 4, 2018
The woman in question sat facing a panel of senators, all listening attentively to her. Some listened to find the truth in her story. Others waited to catch her in a lie.
“I know about sexual harassment and discrimination against women and I think I have some sensitivity to it,” one senator said. Then added, “How sure can you expect this committee to be on the accuracy of your statements?”
This was the testimony of Anita Hill in 1991, during the hearings for Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination.
But it might as well have been Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in 2018.
The panel of senators may be more diverse and there may be more of a consensus on the gravity of the allegations, but the song remains the same. The treatment of Hill and Blasey is typical of the treatment sexual assault survivors receive when they speak out—be it here at Santa Clara or on the steps of Capitol Hill.
Since 2015, Santa Clara has been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for discrimination under Title IX procedural requirements and sexual violence. According to a 2016 article by The Santa Clara, the university’s Equal Employment Opportunity and Title IX office were required to submit thousands of documents as part of a complete compliance review of reporting and prevention methods.
The investigation was prompted by a complaint from someone who was unsatisfied with how the university handled their sexual assault case. Dissatisfaction with Santa Clara’s Title IX office is not a rare occurrence.
The Santa Clara has published several first person accounts of sexual assault incidents from Santa Clara students. Thoughout the pieces, documented in The Amplify Project, there was a theme of frustration, anxiety and ultimately humiliation if the survivor chose to report.
“I knew that no one would believe me if I said that what happened between us was nonconsensual—not my friends, not my parents, not the administration,” one piece* reads. “So I didn’t bother reporting what I only much later realized was rape.”
The tendency to under report sexual assault incidents is a direct result of encouraging a culture that dismisses victims. When the President of the United States is pulling out his best derisive impersonation of Dr. Blasey to get cheers and laughter at a Mississippi rally, how can we expect others to behave any better?
Students at Santa Clara certainly don’t expect our Title IX to behave any better. We can see this in the discrepancy between the number of sexual assaults Santa Clara reports and the results of the Campus Climate survey. The 2018 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report only publicizes seven cases of rape, three cases of fondling, one case of domestic violence, four cases of dating violence and nine cases of stalking.
However, the Executive Summary of the Campus Climate Survey reports that 12 percent of respondents had experienced unwanted sexual conduct while at Santa Clara. More specifically, five percent of respondents experience unwanted sexual contact (fondling, rape, sexual assault and penetration without consent). Although under reporting is not an issue unique to Santa Clara, the campus culture we have created is what leads to under reporting. We do not need to be the same as other universities in our handling of sexual assault cases, as the Campus Climate report claims we are. We can be better and we should be better.
That change starts by being as open as possible about what the Title IX process is like and expanding on resources already available to survivors, including the Violence Prevention Program. Currently, new students are required to complete a web-based education program that addresses sexual violence, reporting misconduct and accessing resources. All new undergraduates must also attend the One Love Escalation Workshop, which deals with recognizing signs of relationship violence.
But the film the university uses to teach sexual violence awareness—“Can’t Thread a Moving Needle”—is woefully outdated. The Associated Student Government has mentioned replacing the film in the past and doing so should be a priority.
Ideally, the solution to such a large scale problem wouldn’t just fall on Santa Clara’s shoulders. Education around consent should start way before anyone moves into their first college dorm because teaching someone what rape is and isn’t should not be a taboo subject. It is, in fact, the answer to preventing extremes like the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
It is also the answer to make sure that accusations of sexual assault are made with certainty and a full understanding of what constitutes assault. Many survivors, including the survivor quoted above, do not know what happened to them was rape.
“Senator, I would suggest to you that for me these are more than mere allegations,” Hill said, 27 years ago. “These are the truth to me. These allegations are the truth to me.” Hill’s words and her fight still echo today. It is up to us to make sure that two decades from now another person does not have to sit in front of a panel of senators and make them believe their trauma is more than an inconvenience.
*Quote from Jan. 2017 “Dying in the hours between midnight and morning.”
Perla Luna is a senior English and sociology double major and Editor-in-Chief of The Santa Clara.