Excerpt of Martha Nussbaum's 'Citadels of Pride'

Thoughts about sexual assault on college campuses

So far we have traced the evolution of legal standards for sexual assault and sexual harassment, and their current defects and challenges. There is, however, a significant area of our national discussion that is not fully covered by these discussions, because it involves a complex and uneasy mixture of federal law (Title IX, discussed in Chapter 5) and informal tribunals: sexual assault and harassment on college campuses. Because my previous discussions have covered the most salient issues in each area of law, I need not devote a full chapter to this case, nor do I wish such a disproportionate focus to suggest that women who attend college deserve more attention than women who do not. Unequal access to higher education is already a major problem of justice in our society, compounding other disadvantages based on race and class. There is no reason to perpetuate the injustice by paying more attention to the problems of those women who have managed to arrive at a college or university. One of the great strengths of the traditions I have described is the fact that working-class and minority women (for example Cheryl Araujo, Mechelle Vinson, Mary Carr) have been among their salient plaintiffs.

Yet, because the institutional structures are different, the topic of campus assault requires separate treatment, albeit briefly. Nobody knows exactly how large a problem this is, but one recent survey by the Association of American Universities found that around 20 percent of female undergraduates are victims of sexual assault or sexual misconduct at some point during their college life. Other studies have found frequent sexual abuse of males as well, amounting to 6 to 8 percent. Although there are disputes over methodology and definition, there’s no doubt about the severity of the issue. It would appear, however, that attending college does not make a woman more likely to suffer sexual assault.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault have long included abuses of power between faculty and students, but on the whole, these cases have been understood as workplace abuses of power, and are dealt with under clear public rules, in much the manner of other workplaces. Thus, Chapter 5 has already basically dealt with these cases. In this Interlude I focus on student-student assault and harassment.

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