A Call for Collective Action on Columbia Sexual Assault Policies

In February, we published a piece called “Reconsidering Rape: Experience as the Life of the Law.” The author, Lane Feler, is a 2L who described her experience learning about rape law as someone who had been raped. Undoubtedly, given that one in five college women is a victim of attempted rape or rape, there were other women in her class who shared her experience. Given that some of us read in our Criminal Law textbook  that 61% of sexually active college women say no when they mean yes — 90% of whom say no to avoid appearing promiscuous – there were likely some who would question the details of her story even if she had shared it.[1] Despite being a significant portion of the Criminal Law course, the thorny issue of rape was met with reluctance and silence.

In the months since Lane’s piece was published we have a seen a focus on universities as institutions that have largely failed their students with respect to dealing with sexual assault. Columbia itself has come under such public scrutiny. And, right across the street, there is an incubator that prepares the future attorneys, legislators, and activists who will carry the discussion forward and perhaps even shape the law. While it is important that the general community be able to talk meaningfully about rape, it is equally as crucial that those of us who deal with it on a professional level be able to do the same.

Last week, President Bollinger sent an email to announce that he has charged the Presidential Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault (PACSA) with developing an “ongoing, multi-year, comprehensive plan to address sexual assault within our community.”  There have been a number of other recent changes to Columbia’s approach to sexual assault such as restructuring the departments charged with overseeing investigation and adjudication of alleged assaults, increased access new rape crisis centers on campus, and a new website to broadcast the relevant policies and resources.

Some Columbia Law students have begun to organize a group dedicated to reforming the sexual assault curriculum in Criminal Law. Others have created a program for Criminal Law students who have been victims of sexual abuse to mentor each other through the process of learning about the crime in this school. These efforts should be applauded. But now is the time for collective action. In this issue, point out that no Columbia Law School students were involved in the process of filing the April complaint and only one law professor signed the open letter of more than 100 faculty members supporting the complainants. This crisis deserves to be addressed in a conversation that involves students and faculty, men and women, victims and perpetrators, law students and the activists in the sexual assault movement across the street.


[1] Steiker, Carol S., Sanford H. Kadish, and Stephen J. Schulhofer. Criminal Law and Its Processes: Cases and Materials. New York, NY: Aspen, 2007. 353. Print.


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