Campus NOW criticizes UF's response to rape
Candi Churchill
March 1999

The following are excerpts from the Campus National Organization for Women's introduction to their rape and sexual harassment speakout held January 21, 1999 at UF:

The freedom from sexual assault and harassment is basic to our pursuit of higher education and our right to live and work without threats or attacks. According to the University of Florida's Policy on Sexual Assault in the Student Guide, "Any behavior which causes the sexual abuse/assault of another person will not be tolerated..." The laws, policies, and lip service are not enough. No woman should be forced to share her campus with rapists, yet we all are right now...

Men are able to continue to commit violence against women because of the lack of sufficient repercussions and punishments for their actions and the lack of a strong stand by the University's student judicial system and the judicial system at large to uphold the law and protect women's rights.

Women repeatedly tell us how short these promises [by UF] come to reaching any sort of justice. Policies mean nothing if they are never implemented and if they continue to skirt around punishing violators. You always hear that women are too scared to report violence or harassment against us. That we are ashamed or too weak to come forward. ... Women do speak out. Many will get up today and tell her story to you, strangers, colleagues, unknowing friends and acquaintances alike. We want to take a stand against the wrongs that have occurred in our lives in hopes of preventing more harm to women. But all the grand policies and bold statements in the world don't mean anything when reports are not taken seriously. We know that little action will be taken for us, so we strategize and weigh the risks. Many do come forward; but when we do not, it is because we know nothing will happen.

The State Attorney's Office turns down almost 95% of the rape cases that come before them. UF loses victim's files, makes the hearing schedule according to the offender's wishes and rarely takes a stand against rape, other than on paper. The so-called fair, just judicial procedures on campus allow the offender to question the victim, while the victim cannot question the offender. Why would I want to put myself through this? Just ask Student Services exactly how many sex offenders have been kicked off this campus for violating our rights? How many have been suspended or expelled? Ask Lombardi how many letters he has gotten from women begging him to keep her attacker off campus and ask him how many are still here. Ask how many have been "tolerated"? Too many. We live in a society where rapes are swept under the rug. Men go unpunished, free to rape again. I know, as a woman, that a man can rape me and he has the physical, mental and political power to get away with it.

What angers me is that the University of Florida is more concerned with the image of a safe campus than with protecting women and preventing rape and harassment. UF continues to address rape as a safety, communication or education issue and focus on how women can stop rape by staying in groups or not drinking too much. I remember when I first came to UF and settled into my dorm room. Within weeks I began to notice flyers up in our bathroom stalls and in the all-women halls reminding women to watch what we drink, how we "communicate" and to stay in groups. We do this anyway; all women are very aware of the potential violence that can be carried out against us. I thought then, what is in the guy's dorms? They're doing it. Why do I have to restrict my life and my actions because men rape? I asked my male friends what kind of attention the issue got in their dorms and in their fraternities and the answer exemplifies the problem here at UF: Nothing. ...

Campus NOW stands behind any woman who reports rape or sexual harassment. I encourage every woman to get up to speak out today about your experiences with rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment. We believe that many of our personal experiences, experiences we often think happen only to us, are political and are actually affecting many women. As Carol Hanisch said "The Personal IS Political." Speaking out breaks the silence on rape. It is brave and bold and truthful to stand up and say "Yeah this happened to me and it was not my fault and I want to stand with other women to make a change."

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