By Monica Dickson
As police continue to search for missing University of Virginia student, Hannah Graham, unsettling information about her accused abductor, Jesse Matthew, continues to emerge; most notably that Matthew was previously accused of two counts of rape on college campuses. In both cases, though the victims reported their respective assaults to school administration, the universities failed to inform proper police authorities. Since he was discovered hiding in a tent in Galveston, Texas, earlier last week and extradited back to Virginia, Matthew has been connected through DNA to the kidnapping, rape and murder of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington in 2009 as well as a sexual assault in 2005 in which the victim managed to escape. Matthew is currently under investigation for ten possible links to sexual crimes against women throughout Virginia.
While Camille Paglia’s article in Time Magazine, “The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend Evil” may have been correct to claim that many of the so-called cases of sexual assault on college campuses are the result of “oafish hookup melodramas, arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides,” it is important not to downplay the prevalence of assault. Paglia’s emphasis on the inevitability of rape, based on evil inclinations inherent to the human condition, seems to give too little credit to human reason. While rape may never completely cease to exist, there still must be ways to decrease the current numbers. Paglia insists on relating all sex crimes to the sexual psychotic who enacts his “repressive rage against female sexual power” through the “ritualistic symbolism” of assault. This interpretation fails to recognize the fact that not all rape is violent. By relegating rape to sexual psychosis, Paglia seems to conclude that “real” assaults are defined by a common intent to attack woman as “magical life-creator.” I believe that sexual assault is realistically the result of a more simplistic failure: the inability to recognize women as unique, individual persons. Stripped of their individuality, women are intelligible only as interchangeable objects to be used for pleasure and discarded.
Paglia suggests that a Marxist belief in the ability of a political system to perfect human nature and the coddling tendencies of the modern university combine to give female students a false sense of safety. In efforts to protect students and ensure a safe, home-like environment, schools are overstepping their bounds and claiming the authority proper to legal institutions. Though I ultimately agree with Paglia’s claim that “colleges should stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives,” her article oversimplifies the solution to a complicated issue. As long as assaults continue to happen in a student body, victims will continue to report allegations to their administration. Colleges must have a strong mechanism in place for dealing with these issues when they arise. While it would be ideal if victims immediately contacted the police, many students know their assailants and are reluctant to take actions that might upset the student body at large. In these scenarios, many students will turn to their schools for help. Though the administration may perform its own investigation and take actions against the accused student, failure to file a police report could lead to continued sexual deviancy and mishandling of justice.
The long list of allegations against Matthew all trace back to an assault at Liberty University in 2002. The victim, who wishes to remain unnamed, reported the assault to her school administration. Subsequently, Matthew lost his sports scholarship and was expelled from Liberty. Because Liberty University did not report allegations to the police, Matthew was never properly convicted and punished for his crimes. Instead, he remained at large in the Charlottesville community. A year later, Matthew was accused of a second assault at Christopher Newport University where he was taking classes after his expulsion from Liberty. According to ABC News, Christopher Newman University did not file a proper criminal incident information report until Oct. 1 of this year. Though the allegation was originally investigated by a campus police officer, Charlottesville officials were not notified of the offense. Matthew dropped out of Christopher Newport University five days after he was accused of assault. While both Liberty College and Christopher Newport University believed that they were acting in the best interest of the victim, the failure to properly report these crimes may have cost the lives of several women.
While not every sexual offense will result in a recurrent behavior of sexual deviancy, a crime is still a crime and ought to be reported to police. By insisting upon police involvement in rape allegations, universities can heighten the seriousness of this issue, lessening the number of reported “hookup melodramas” and increasing the number of serious rape convictions.