Back in February, Kiera Feldman wrote an incredible story in New Republic about the sexual assault problems at Patrick Henry College, a fundamentalist Christian school known for sending a disproportionate number of graduates into political fields. Feldman wrote that reports of sexual abuse were not taken seriously even after female students came forward with their stories.
Researchers estimate that one in five American women is sexually assaulted in college, and Patrick Henry College’s unique campus culture has not insulated the school from sexual violence. In fact, it puts female students, like Claire Spear, in a particular bind: How do you report sexual assault at a place where authorities seem skeptical that such a thing even exists?
One winter night in 2010, John and Claire were together in his car in Purcellville. John claims that nothing inappropriate happened, but Claire says that, without warning, he climbed over the console between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat, mounted her, and began grinding against her. She froze, unable to speak. Afterward, Claire agonized over why she hadn’t “fought him” off. “I was afraid that it had something to do with my sinful nature,” she says. In the Christian world Claire had been brought up in, men only do bad things to impure women who have tempted them. She blamed herself, tried to act normal, and told no one.
Obviously, colleges across the country are trying to figure out the best way to handle these situations, making sure victims are taken seriously while the accused get due process, but the way Patrick Henry College handled the case seemed especially awful. It wasn’t just that school officials didn’t take the women seriously; they blamed them for bringing the assaults upon themselves by flirting, giving mixed signals, or wearing the wrong kinds of clothing. The perpetrators were given minor punishments, if that.
That’s why there’s some relief in hearing that the President of the school, Dr. Graham Walker, announced his resignation the other day, arguably due to pressure stemming from the school’s mishandling of sexual assault problems on campus.
Noa notes that “there has been tremendous friction between the alumni community and Dr. Walker during the independent review process,” a reference to the alumni board established to review PHC’s handling of campus sexual assault allegations. Concerning Walker’s resignation, Noa also states that he sees it “as a positive change” and “a great step toward a bigger and more successful future for Patrick Henry College.”
For the sake of the students at the school, I hope new leadership, in whatever form it takes, leads to better procedures for dealing with these awful crimes. Whatever they’ve done so far hasn’t worked.
(Large portions of this post were published earlier)