Inaction

Posted: September 16, 2013 by Jender in assault, failure to act, rape

This autumn I have had the privilege of teaching an introductory ethics class, one of my favorites at the undergraduate level. A student recently revealed to me (in a very blase manner, no less) that she had attended a fraternity party on campus with several friends, male and female, and that they were all drugged with a muscle relaxer in vodka drinks. Luckily, they realized what had happened to them, and quickly returned home, so nothing worse than merely attempted rape effectively occurred. However, this is not an isolated incident. The student also informed me that it is common knowledge among the Greeks on campus that this particular fraternity is well-known for drugging their party attendees.

The student didn’t want to really push the issue, she was mostly just telling me about her weekend and this ‘weird’ thing that happened to her, and we both had other classes to go to; the discussion couldn’t have taken more than five minutes, maybe ten. But I couldn’t just let it go. Immediately after I was through teaching for the day, I went first to the Philosophy Department to ask them who I should contact. The DGS, secretary, and my advisor all recommended I go to the campus police first as my legal obligation. Being familiar with the tendency of universities to cover up and avoid bad press, I was skeptical of this approach, but didn’t want to make any false steps in terms of my legal obligations.

The campus police told me that unless I was the legal guardian of the student and the student was underage, they could not even file a report, much less open an investigation on the fraternity, without the student there. They directed me to the campus interpersonal violence prevention offices, who helped me fill out the appropriate form to include this incident in the criminal statistics for the university, and called the office of the Dean of student affairs. Their conclusion was similar: without the participation of the affected student(s), they were not required to investigate the situation.

Finally I called the local police. The only new thing they could add to repeating that the student would have to file was that the actual parents of the student could file the complaint. I now have to contact the student again and ask her to come forward and file a complaint. I have very little hope that she will, based on how flippant she seemed about her narrow escape.

So basically what we have here is a case of a fraternity drugging and presumably raping people on a regular basis, but without a victim coming forward nobody is legally required to do anything so nobody will do anything. The fact that this happened to an introductory-level Philosophy student is only incidentally connected to this blog, but the problem is so immediate I had to share it with someone outside of my social circle. What’s it like to be a woman in Philosophy? You have to respond to these kinds of problems somehow, on a regular basis. I feel like a lot of male philosophers can just pretend this isn’t going on, because they are less likely to have students confide things like this in them, even in passing. You have a legal obligation to do a lot of things which ultimately seem to amount to nothing at all. You have to confront despair.

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