The Huffington Post has added a new section to its ever-expanding website: one entirely devoted to the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. It’s called “Breaking the Silence: Addressing Sexual Assault on Campus,” and features news articles and firsthand accounts from sexual assault survivors. You can check it out here, but click the link with care as some of the headlines are pretty graphic and possibly triggering.
Many have already pointed out that feminist blogs and survivors have been calling attention to sexual assault on campus for years. That’s absolutely true, and there’s no doubt it’s because of their work that HuffPo found this issue important enough to devote a whole section to it. And the fact that they’ve done so is huge. HuffPo is a major platform. Over the past several years, it’s become one of the most popular news sources in the country and one of the most influential organizations in media. The HuffPo website has over 100 million visitors every month. This new platform could bring the issue of sexual assault on college campuses the attention it needs to set some real change in motion. And change is way, way overdue: 1/4 of college women report being raped during their lifetime.
Last summer, I attempted to make a list of all the colleges and universities that were under investigation for mishandling cases of sexual assault. I quickly found that the numbers were overwhelming. I missed a few schools in my list, a handful of new investigations were opened right after it was published, and then there were dozens of schools that had either been investigated in the past or were suspected of wrongdoing but had yet to be disciplined. Writing that article was completely devastating. I knew that many schools were sweeping sexual assaults under the rug, or worse, punishing victims instead of abusers. But researching my list really drove the point home. Survivors are suffering at schools all over the country. They’re being betrayed by the people who are supposed to help them.
The amazing (and disturbing) thing about HuffPo’s new section is that it’s all right there. It’s not totally comprehensive coverage yet (the stories only go back to the beginning of 2013), but as time goes on, they’ll accumulate. Every time someone finds the courage to tell their story, or fight back against an administration that has silenced them, their story will add to the list. And every school that has failed its students will have its name plastered all over a HuffPo headline for the world to see. Negative attention shouldn’t be what motivates colleges to change their policies – concern for their students should inform every decision. But clearly, that’s not how things are working right now. So until these institutions of higher learning start behaving like the examples they’re supposed to be, I’m glad they’ll be getting the public shaming they deserve.