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No Longer a Victim
'May no act of ours bring shame
To one heart that loves thy name . . .'
Excerpt from the Penn State Alma Mater
I am not surprised to hear about the widespread cover-up by university officials in relation to the Jerry Sandusky case. You see, in 2002 I was a crime victim at Penn State. I was a student at Penn State-University Park, and active in speaking out against homophobia and racial inequalities I witnessed on campus. As a result, I was targeted by a nationally known hate organization that published my personal information on its website and incited people to act violently against me. I received horrifying and graphic death threats, as did a number of black student leaders, members of the university's Board of Trustees, and football players. We pressed charges, and as a result, individuals were convicted of crimes that included making terroristic threats, harassment by communication, and ethnic intimidation.
But, in my opinion, that wasn't the only crime committed. The university did not acknowledge our victimization, and did everything it could do to separate itself from the case. As a result, we never received any victims' services—services that should have been provided under federal law. In fact, we weren't even told that a law protecting victims existed. The university administration at Penn State didn't consider us victims; we were a public relations nightmare that they wanted to do everything they could to distance themselves from and they did.
So when I heard about the fifty-two counts of various sexual assault charges being levied against former Penn State football coach, Jerry Sandusky, I was disgusted but not totally surprised to also learn that multiple Penn State officials knew about Sandusky's alleged criminal behavior and did nothing to make him stop. Even though it is inconceivable to the average person that someone could walk around with this knowledge and not do anything to protect these children, I knew better. I went to the press conference, and I began reaching out to ensure these victims' voices were heard. I immediately began to ask the questions I felt were on everyone's mind. Why didn't anybody act? Was it because there was a football institution to protect? Was it because there was a school's name to preserve? What about the protection of the victims? What about the safety of the community?
The sad truth is that Penn State is not alone.
Universities and colleges are notorious for underreporting acts of sexual violence on their campuses. Because of this, Congress passed the Campus Sexual Assault Victim's Bill of Rights in 1992, which requires colleges to notify sexual assault victims of their rights, to provide services, and to have formal policies for addressing sexual assault. Congress also passed the Clery Act in 1990, requiring colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and/or near their campuses. The law is named for Jeanne Clery, a nineteen-year-old Lehigh University freshman who was raped and murdered in her campus residence hall in 1986.
I believe that the Penn State University officials neglected these laws. It is also my belief that this is not the first time—and without action, it won't be the last. Thankfully, the federal government has now stepped in and hopefully changes will come to protect future victims. I can only hope this horrific case will first lead to justice for the victims, in addition to tougher sanctions when a university is found to cover up crimes, regular reviews of crime reporting policies, or perhaps even a rewrite of current law. It's time for a joint session of Congress to review current law, and provide swift action to prevent further crime by universities. It's also time for the public to remind universities of their obligations.
I accept that violence isn't always preventable. But I will never accept a university placing its reputation ahead of justice and the safety of children and victims.
Posted November 9, 2013