On the campus of Yale University.Jessica Hill, AP
It’s rare for a college to seriously sanction a student who commits sexual assault. According to a 2010 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, only 10 to 25 percent of students found “responsible” for sexual assault were permanently kicked off campus.
Sokolow believed “nonconsensual sex” sounded less bad, which could actually encourage schools to punish rapists. But some experts think toning down the language has the opposite effect.
“It just gives the school the ability to not expel students,” said Colby Bruno, who has assisted thousands of colleges and universities in addressing sexual assault as the senior legal counsel at the Victim Rights Law Center. “That’s really what it’s about.”
In the first half of 2013, Yale University reported four cases in which the school found "sufficient evidence" that students had engaged in “nonconsensual sex,” and all of the perpetrators were allowed to continue pursuing degrees. (Only one was suspended.) When this information came out in Yale’s biannual report on sexual misconduct last summer, the backlash was swift and loud. The headlines read: “Yale Fails to Expel Students Guilty of Sexual Assault.” A Change.org petition collected 1,500 signatures.
In response, Yale did something unprecedented in the world of college sexual assault policy: The school published detailed descriptions of different nonconsensual sex scenarios and their corresponding punishments. The school wanted to make it clear that it wasn’t letting rapists roam freely on campus.
Nonconsensual sex was not, in fact, sexual assault. According to Yale Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler, the phrase allowed the school to punish behavior that may not meet the legal standard.
One of the scenarios describes a couple, Harper and Sidney. Harper knows Sidney isn’t ready to have sex, but starts moving toward it.
“We shouldn’t do this,” Sidney says, continuing to touch Harper intimately.
“This is a bad idea,” Sidney says, as Harper proceeds anyway. Sidney starts to cry, still embracing Harper.
The punishment: probation to suspension.
“If that’s not rape, I don’t know what is,” Bruno said. “I don’t know how people think that’s not rape. That’s called victim blaming ... You can’t say, ‘She said no slightly, you pulled away slightly.’ When you’re in that situation and someone pulls away, you know what’s happening.”