Friday, August 19, 2016

Why has Baylor continually mishandled rape cases?

Last year’s rape scandals at Baylor University focused on what appeared to be a pattern of protecting football players from the consequences of criminal acts.

An investigation this year commissioned by the university was so troubling that it led to the firing of legendary football coach Art Briles and the demotion of University President Ken Starr.

But Baylor’s mishandling of rape cases for years has gone beyond the protection of football players.

This week the Houston Chronicle reported on 12 alleged rapes at Baylor, as recent as last year and as far back as 2004.

The newspaper interviewed five of the victims, and read lawsuit filings involving the rest.

The article detailed complaints ranging from a failure to provide counseling or even basic information to the victims, to campus police officers seeming to attempt to talk them out of filing charges.

Nothing was done to help the victim avoid encountering her rapist on campus — often a traumatic event in itself.

Baylor officials say they have greatly improved their training, their counseling services and their investigative methodology.

But it makes you wonder where they have been.

Campus rape has been an issue for decades.

And for decades, colleges and universities have been shamed for discouraging women from reporting rapes, for trying to avoid bad publicity for fear of frightening away students and their parents.

But 20 years ago, San Antonio’s University of the Incarnate Word was already dealing with it well.

On a Sunday night in September, 1996, a freshman reported that she had been raped by a 21-year-old man brought on campus by another student.

The young woman admitted that she and the man had imbibed a bit too much tequila together, and that she had allowed herself to be alone with him.

The two had even been seen acting affectionately together.

That, of course, would have been taken by some officials as an indication that the sex was consensual.

But that’s not how Incarnate Word staff reacted.

They took her seriously.

They had the man taken downtown for questioning by police and a member of the residence hall staff took the woman to the hospital for an exam.

The next day, rather than hush the incident up, Renee Moore, acting dean of student life, sent a memo to all dorm rooms.

It gave the details of the incident without naming names.

It asked students to be careful, and announced that the alleged rapist had been banned from the campus. 

The purpose of the memo, Moore wrote, was “to inform the community of this unfortunate incident so that we can provide support to one another and have access to accurate information.”

She added that campus ministers and counselors were available to any students who wanted them.

Then the Logos, the student newspaper, devoted a front-page story to the rape, and University President Lou Agnese wrote a column about it.

The message to students was that they would be taken seriously if they reported a rape, and that they would not be put on trial themselves, even if their behavior was questionable.

Incarnate Word officials did not come to this way of handling campus rapes by being saints.

A few years earlier they had handled a similar situation poorly.

But they learned from their mistakes.

And it’s not like they were the norm.

At the same time, the University of Texas at San Antonio was being sued for a botched rape case in which a campus cop, during a five-hour grilling, repeatedly asked a student if she had experienced an orgasm during the rape.

UTSA admitted he asked her that, but presented “expert” opinion from two other officers that this was an appropriate question.

It wasn’t, of course, even if the woman had been drunk.

But this woman had been abducted after class and raped at gunpoint.

But that was 20 years ago, and UTSA responded by mending its ways.

What, in heaven’s name, is Baylor’s excuse?

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