Women make up 16.8 percent of the U.S. Congress. This figure is an embarrassment on its own — especially for a country that touts its progressivism and considers itself an authority on women’s rights — but in light of female reproductive rights being suddenly thrust onto center stage as not just an issue, but the issue, it is especially disturbing.
The problem is national, statewide and local.
At the national level, women’s issues are the current political fixation, but women are not granted entry into the discourse. Programs geared toward women have seen an unprecedented year of attacks. Planned Parenthood was defunded in multiple states, and restrictions on abortion legislation are becoming more prevalent.
The phrase “war on women” to describe the current state of American politics has been thrown around recently, and in light of attacks not just on Planned Parenthood and abortion rights, but also on insurance-covered birth control and even the Girl Scouts, the description is apt.
The sexism embedded in American politics and national media is not limited to those arenas.
In the UC, the systemic attack on and sexism against women resides in the structure stipulated by Title IX for handling cases of sexual assault at higher institutions. The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) recently found the structure Title IX stipulates does not adequately handle sexual assault cases.
A report funded by the Department of Justice found roughly one in five college women will be the victim of a rape or an attempted rape by the time she graduates. A 12-month investigation by the CPI found the official numbers provided by schools did not nearly reflect the actual prevalence of sexual assault on campuses. Furthermore, the process of reporting and the implications of speaking out means the numbers are underrepresented.
“Student victims face a depressing litany of barriers that often either ensure their silence or leave them feeling victimized a second time,” according to the CPI report.
The investigation determined students found “responsible” for sexual assault received minimal punishment, and the student who reported faced more severe repercussions.
University of the Pacific (UOP) student Beckett Brennan suffered from this exact failing of the Title IX structure outlined in the CPI investigation. Brennan was a basketball player at UOP, and in May 2008 was raped by three men from UOP’s Division 1 basketball team at once.
Brennan kept quite about the incident, but when she finally reported the rape, her testimony was met with intense criticism, incessant harassment, and accusations that she made up the incident. Though the men were found guilty of violating the school’s sexual harassment policy, one student, Steffan Johnson, was expelled but received a full scholarship to the University of Idaho three months later. Michael Nunnally was suspended for a year and Michael Kirby was suspended for a semester. Brennan herself was driven out of the university.
Brennan said the board’s questions focused on her accountability for the incident, asking her the degree to which she was flirting with the men and how much she drank.
Incidents like this, sadly, are not rare. Many times women who report cases of sexual assault bear the most burden and are faced with the reality that reporting could actually make it worse.
UC Santa Cruz is no exception. The exact same structure is used on this campus and as such is open to the same failings. The structure that Title IX stipulates is not an isolated failure. It is a microcosm of the larger systemic sexism that permeates nationwide. We are post-nothing.