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let’s talk sex

Just days after a Duke University soccer player was granted a preliminary injunction to remain on campus after being suspended for sexual assault, the school released a survey with updated statistics on campus sexual assault.

Duke has come back into the national spotlight for sexual assault with a lawsuit against the university filed by men’s soccer player Ciaran McKenna. On Feb. 15, Judge Orlando Hudson ruled that McKenna would remain at Duke for the remainder of the lawsuit.

Duke is no stranger to lawsuits filed by students found responsible for sexual misconduct. In 2016—ten years after the infamous Duke lacrosse case—an ESPN documentary entitled “Fantastic Lies” brought back to public attention the way in which Duke handles sexual misconduct cases.

In 2014, another Duke soccer player, Lewis McLeod, sued Duke for his degree after being expelled during his senior year. He is the first known student to be expelled for sexual assault at the university.

Since McLeod’s expulsion, this sort of sanction has become more common at Duke. However, “common” is a relative term. As I dissected in my last column, “Breaking down the breakdown,” the Sexual Misconduct Review for the 2015-2016 school year shows that of 124 student sexual misconduct reports, only four students were expelled. The report showed that one student was suspended, who can now be identified as McKenna.

McKenna was not just found responsible for sexual misconduct in one instance, but was in fact found responsible by two separate panels. McKenna was allowed due process through, appealing the first panel decision that found him responsible for sexual misconduct. When the appeals panel found that there was procedural error in the first panel, a second panel found that the victim had not given consent, and also explicitly denied it. A second appeals panel then decided not to overturn this decision. McKenna was finally suspended this January for an assault that occurred in November 2015, over a year later.

In court, McKenna’s lawyers argued that the details of the alleged sexual assault were not in dispute in this case, but instead whether Duke was negligent. Hudson agreed that there was proof that McKenna’s hearings may have been fundamentally unfair. Thus, the injunction was placed that McKenna should be allowed to remain on campus during the litigation of his case.

McKenna’s lawyers have expressed enthusiasm that he will be allowed to continue his education at Duke. I demand that we look at how this will affect the education of his victim.

Is it fair to force her to remain on a campus with her perpetrator who has been found responsible by the university on two separate occasions? If the details of the assault are not in dispute in this case, is it acceptable to allow a university-declared rapist to remain on-campus, studying alongside his victim?

On Feb. 20, the results of the Duke University Student Experiences Survey—conducted in the spring of 2016—were released to a campus reeling from the headlines on Feb. 15 that a student-athlete found responsible of sexual assault would return to campus. The survey released findings that would be shocking to anyone unfamiliar with the prevalence of sexual assault on campus.

Since enrolling at Duke, 40 percent of undergraduate female respondents, along with 10 percent of undergraduate male respondents, reported being sexually assaulted while at Duke.

In addition, Black/African-American and Hispanic undergraduate women reported higher rates of sexual assault than any other racial subgroup. Gay, lesbian and bisexual undergraduate students also reported a higher rate than heterosexual/straight undergraduates.

The report also highlights that the majority of sexual assaults during the 2015-2016 academic year involved high levels of alcohol or drug use. A higher percentage of sexual assaults occurred off-campus, with the highest frequency occurring at Greek houses and bars/clubs. Residence halls were the most commonly reported on-campus location for sexual assault.

The majority of female undergraduates reported that their perpetrators were heterosexual males, while male undergraduates reported an equal percentage of male and female perpetrators. The majority of students reported that perpetrators were Duke students, but 30 percent of female undergraduates reported that despite this fact, they considered their perpetrator a stranger.

The largest age subgroup of women reporting sexual assault is 18-year-olds, which coincides with female undergraduates reporting that most sexual assaults occurred during the first three months of their academic year. Male undergraduates reported that most assaults occurred in September, November and March.

I can only hope that the enormous prevalence of sexual assault perpetrators and victims on-campus humanizes and grounds the McKenna case in a frightening reality. With 40 percent of female undergraduates and 10 percent of male undergraduates reporting being victims of sexual assaults while at Duke, it is highly likely that everyone on-campus knows someone suffering from the consequences of an assault. And yet, although the rights of McKenna’s education are being debated, discussions of these same rights for the victim are nowhere to be heard. Whether a victim decides they’re comfortable to go public or they’re to rightfully keep their privacy, victims deserve to continue their education in a safe and supportive environment, and must always be a part of the consideration.

Delaney Dryfoos is a Trinity sophomore. Her column, "let's talk sex" runs on alternate Wednesdays.