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Campus Rape

In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017), author Katie Gentile writes as follows:
In 2011, after a great deal of agitation on the part of female students and risk to themselves, the United States Department of Education filed charges against Yale University for its failure to provide women students with equal access to education. The suit was the culmination of years of complaints from women students. These students endured an educational culture shaped by verbal and physical violence against them. Instead of continuing, and failing, to gain justice through the common route of the criminal justice system – reporting incidents and trusting the university would investigate sexual misconduct as it would any other crime – the students instead leveraged Title IX. Title IX, passed in 1972, addresses access to education in general, although it is most famously known for its applications to college based athletics. This tactic put the university on notice in a new way. Federal funding is linked to Title IX. If a college/university is shown not to support Title IX, federal funding is in jeopardy. Calling upon Title IX shifted the focus from the sexual misconduct itself. Instead, it was on the process of investigation by the campus. The school, not individual students, was the offender. Instead of having to prove an incident did or did not occur, under Title IX the students had to show the campus failed to investigate reports of sexual misconduct. The students claimed the university’s refusal to address or investigate reports of sexual harassment, stalking, rape and attempted rape on campus was not merely the toleration of, but the creation and sustaining of a hostile environment for women students, limiting their access to education.
This same year the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague Letter,” outlining specific guidelines for colleges to deal with incidents of sexual misconduct. It described “42 different forms of sexual violence and misconduct – mainly though, legal terminology of physical sex acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent” (Ali, 2011 cited in Koss, et. al., 2014, p. 243). As such, the DCL mandates a “quasi-criminal justice” (Koss, et. al., 2014, p. 242) approach to managing misconduct. Actions emanate from individual, usually masculine identified bodies. Options may vary but the problem is contained within an individual who has transgressed, misconducted himself. As such a campus is able to split off the offense into the perpetrator (or the victim) and through a system of justice, purge the community body of the danger.
In this chapter, I am attempting two things: to use psychoanalytic theory to better understand the potential roles of bystander intervention and restorative justice for campus sexual misconduct and to turn this around to use these approaches as an external example to better identify and understand similar issues in the psychoanalytic space. I am interested in the potential these campus-based interventions hold for breaking the vicious cycle that perpetuates victim-perpetrator dynamic that is rampant not just on campuses and in criminal justice literature, but within psychoanalysis itself. Even though most psychoanalysts know such limiting dyadic projections merely silence and paralyze the potential response of communities to address problems in their midst, such paranoid/schizoid (Klein, Ogden CITE) splitting is a common response of training institutes. I am not claiming any a direct comparison between sexual boundary violations in the psychoanalytic setting with the various kinds of sexual misconduct that occurs on college campuses. I am merely using the wider variety of campus responses to imagine, create space, within psychoanalysis, and in turn, using psychoanalytic theory to potentially deepen our understanding of community-based campus response. Both are social bodies and both are struggling to address sexual misconduct.
When an analytic couple is stuck in a clinical impasse, the emergence of a “third” position can create the space necessary for reflection and meaning making (Benjamin 2004), enabling the dyad to come to a new way of being. This triangular positioning creates a space for reflection, pulling the dyad out of a rigid dynamic. Temporally linear repetition is shifted by this opening of the space. In this chapter, I use a similar temporal/spatial approach to describe what could seem as a “sudden” explosion of cases of sexual assault on college campuses. Of course an increase in media coverage is not an increase in incidents. They have always been too frequent. Like any stuck dyad, or shamed family, college campuses have, for the most part, chosen repetition and the practice of relying on their own disciplinary boards to “police” their own, keeping the family secret. This chapter is one attempt at creating an outside position

Campus Rape

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.

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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2018). Campus Rape. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Oct 2018
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