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Giving Serial Rapists a Permanent Mark on Campus

JURIST Guest Columnist Sarah Silverhardt of St. John's University discusses the implications of continued ignorance of serial rapists on college campuses...

Unlike your Sunday marathon of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, this heinous crime was real. Two Virginia students both abducted and murdered, and both body remains were found five miles apart on a rural farm. Coincidence? Definitely not. During the fall of 2009, Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech University student, disappeared after she left a concert. Fast-forward five years later, on September 13, 2014, Hannah Graham, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, went missing from the downtown area of Charlottesville, Virginia. Thirty-five days later, DNA evidence connected Morgan Harrington, Hannah Graham, and an anonymous 2005 rape victim to one perpetrator: Jesse L. Matthew.

Officials soon discovered that Matthew's crimes dated back even earlier. In 2002, Matthew played football for Liberty University in Virginia, where he was kicked off the team after an alleged sexual assault. No criminal charges were filed but he was suspended before leaving the university. After transferring to Christopher Newport University, Matthew was again accused of sexual assault. As allegations were pending there, Matthew left before any charges were filed and an investigation could commence.

The Jesse Matthew story epitomizes the campus serial rapist who moves from campus to campus raping and sexually assaulting women without ever getting caught under the flawed Title IX system. As horrific as his record is, Matthew's commission of numerous rapes on or about college campuses is not at all exceptional. Unfortunately, serial sexual perpetrators are all too common in our colleges and universities. In a 2002 study [PDF] conducted by David Lasiak and Paul M. Miller, two clinical psychologists known for their research on campus sexual violence, 1,882 male students from a mid-sized university participated in a questionnaire about "childhood experiences and adult functioning." To be classified as a "rapist," the participant had to respond in the affirmative to particular behavioral questions that described sexual acts, without using words such as "rape" or "assault." A series of questions followed regarding the participant's age, number of victims and number of times the conduct happened. The results revealed that 6.4% of participants admitted to campus rape or attempted rape. Of admitted rapists, 63.3% confessed that they had committed multiple offenses against multiple victims or the same victim, totaling to approximately six rapes each. Thus, out of the entire sample of men in the study, a mere 76 men were responsible for an estimated 439 rapes and attempted rapes.

This continued ignorance of serial rape on educational campuses is dangerous and harmful. Under Title IX, two particular flaws significantly contribute to the continuous serial rape problem. The first is non-existent information sharing between post-secondary campuses. Currently, if a student transfers at the end or during their Title IX proceedings for sexual violence charges, there is no systematic mechanism by which a new prospective college can learn about those alleged charges, proceedings or outcomes. At best, the student may self-report the pending allegations to an open-ended question on an application, but that is highly unlikely due to the student's self-interest. Thus, the victimization continues elsewhere as the student becomes a potential danger to an entirely new student body and campus.

Another flaw is the lenient punishment implemented by the schools for Title IX violations. Title IX gives post-secondary institutions the discretion to impose their own disciplinary procedures on responsible students. The Campus Sexual Assault Study [PDF] surveyed 5,446 undergraduate women and found that of the reported rape and sexual assault claims on college and university campuses, less than 1% of responsible perpetrators received disciplinary punishment or sanctions from the university. Implemented lenient punishments such as sensitivity training, book report assignments or probation from extracurricular activities are merely "slaps on the wrist" and have no significant deterring measure. The most severe punishment is expulsion, which is uncommon and at some schools, nonexistent. For example, since its foundation in 1819, the University of Virginia has never expelled a single student for rape or sexual assault, even in the case where the accused admitted to the crime. This failure to impose severe punishment and disciplinary actions amounts to tacit approval and contributes to the serial sexual violence epidemic on campus.

Recently in 2015, Virginia and New York passed legislation in efforts to strictly hold sexually violent perpetrators accountable on college and university campuses. Both state laws dictate that colleges and universities are required to mark a student's transcript if a student has been suspended or dismissed for sexual violence, or withdrawn from the school with pending allegations of sexual violence. The problem is that even though all schools within the states of Virginia and New York are bound to follow these procedures, the educational institutions in the rest of the country are not.

Title IX entitles students to an education absent of discrimination; campuses rife with sexual violence deprive students of this. Transcript notations can provide a strong and effective message to perpetrators as well as victims only if all states choose to adopt this policy. Transcript notations must therefore be implemented as a federal action, as an extended component of Title IX, binding all colleges and universities across America. Colleges and universities need an efficient way to track students who have been found responsible for rape or sexual assault under Title IX. Thus, compelling schools to mark transcripts will solve information sharing because prospective schools will be put on notice about student's disciplinary history, accept more liability, and in response, take more preventative measures. Moreover, the transcript notation itself will serve as a form of punishment that will impact the students' academic future and act as a powerful deterrent on serial perpetrators.

Transcript notions alone will not completely resolve the issue of campus sexual violence, however, it will make large strides in eliminating serial rapists and slapping a red flag on student perpetrators who are found responsible on college and university campuses. Nothing can be done for Hannah Graham or Morgan Harrington, but there are thousands of other women in need of saving on educational campuses.

Sarah Siverman is a student at St. John's University.

Suggested citation: Sarah Silverhardt, Giving Serial Rapists a Permanent Mark on Educational Campuses , JURIST - Student Commentary, Aug. 26, 2017, http://jurist.org/dateline/2017/08/Sarah-Silverhardt-college-campuses-serial-rapists.php



This article was prepared for publication by Krista Grobelny, Assistant Editor for JURIST Commentary. Please direct any questions ot comments to her at commentary@jurist.org

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.
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