By Jackie Brant
TW: Sex Crimes
Democrats in the Ohio General Assembly have recently introduced a bill to the state legislature that would abolish the statute of limitations for sex crimes in the state. This same bill would also eliminate exemptions for sex crimes including spousal rape and sexual battery.
The introduction of the bill comes in response to Governor Mike Dewine’s comments following the exposure of previous sex crimes committed at The Ohio State University. Richard Strauss, a former athletic trainer at OSU, was found to have committed at least 177 separate cases of sexual abuse during his time at the university between 1979 and 1996. Strauss committed suicide in 2005.
Despite the number and severity of these cases, it is likely that Strauss could not have been prosecuted for the vast majority of his crimes if he were alive today. Ohio’s statute of limitations for rape specifically is 20 to 25 years depending on the circumstances, and the statute of limitations for other felony sex crimes can be as short as six years. Misdemeanors are even less, with some being only one to two years.
After these allegations against Strauss blew up this year, Dewine urged the state legislature to consider drafting and passing a bill that would not only abolish the statute of limitations for sex crimes, but would also increase the penalties for sex crimes — especially when committed by authority figures such as college employees.
These sorts of cases unfortunately occur all too frequently. This Strauss case is very similar to what occurred with the numerous allegations against Bill Cosby regarding the function of the statute of limitations. At the time of Cosby’s trials in California, the statute of limitations for rape was only 10 years. The majority of the allegations against Cosby pertained to events that occurred between 1960 and 1980, rendering all the accusers from that time period unable to bring charges against him.
Ultimately, Cosby was only found guilty on three counts of aggravated assault from an incident in 2004 in the state of Pennsylvania, and was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison. He faced no charges in California. Soon after the allegations surfaced, California abolished the statute of limitations for sex crimes in direct response. Unfortunately, this repeal of the statute of limitations is not retroactive, meaning that the repeal will only impact future crimes.
It seems that Ohio will take this same path. Just as Cosby’s victims will never be able to receive justice or closure for his actions, Strauss’ victims will never receive justice for his actions. The statute of limitations for sex crimes has literally prevented hundreds of people in these two cases alone from getting the justice they deserve.
Currently, fewer than 30 states have abolished the statute of limitations for first-degree rape charges, and even fewer have abolished the statute of limitations for any sex crimes other than rape. If Ohio’s state legislature successfully passes this bill, it would be one of the most comprehensive and progressive repeals of the statute of limitations for sex crimes in the United States.
While I understand the reasoning behind the statute of limitations — to ensure that adequate evidence can still be gathered — the practice is simply unnecessary today, given advancements in modern DNA technology. There was a time when the statute of limitations made sense, but now it is entirely outdated. Not only has DNA testing evolved, but our ability to store all sorts of evidence — including DNA evidence — has also advanced to an extremely high level. As long as evidence can be collected efficiently and stored effectively, the argument in favor of maintaining the statute of limitations in cases of rape and sexual assault collapses.
Ohio residents — especially progressive Ohioans — should be both excited and hopeful by the possibility of this bill passing. First and foremost, the bill would allow thousands of people in the future to get the justice that they deserve. The statute of limitations allows abusers to hide behind these limitations and escape the punishment that they deserve — it protects perpetrators of sex crimes rather than victims of these crimes. Abolishing the statute of limitations would be a step in the right direction to ensure that lawmakers are doing everything in their power to make the justice system work for victims of sex crimes.
However, the high likelihood of this bill passing is also symbolic of something deeper. During the past few years, Ohio residents have gone through a great deal. We faced a shocking 2016 election, abortion rights have been under attack, we have seen a mass shooting with no action by the Ohio legislature to prevent another one, and the opioid epidemic continues to ravage the state. The political and economic turmoil across the state has led some to question whether Ohio can even be considered a swing state anymore.
However, this bill provides a reason for hope. Although this story has been drastically underreported by popular local news sources, all Ohioans should care about it. The investigation into Richard Strauss and The Ohio State University was both appalling and terrifying, and it shocked residents of the state and the country in general. However, Ohio has a chance not only to prevent this from happening again in the future, but also to enact one of the most comprehensive and progressive reforms to the prosecution of rape and other sex crimes in the country.
The Ohio state legislature must seriously consider passing this bill not only to correct the current wrongs of the justice system, but to protect its citizens going forward. Ohio has the unique opportunity to be a trailblazer in this arena. Lawmakers have a responsibility to protect its citizens to the best of its ability.
By Jackie Brant
TW: Homophobia and Transphobia
The Supreme Court is in the process of hearing three different cases from New York, Georgia, and Michigan that will decide the future of LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace. Two of the three cases have been combined because both plaintiffs were fired immediately after coming out as gay in their workplace; the third case involves a transgender woman who was fired immediately after coming out to her superiors and informing them that she would be transitioning in the future.
Despite the differences in the cases, all three claim that being fired on the basis of sexuality or gender identity violates the rights guaranteed to the plaintiffs by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex. The main counterargument against this claim is that the original drafters of the act and the people who voted to pass it did not intend “sex” to include sexuality or gender identity.
As it currently stands, only 21 states have state-level workplace discrimination protections in place for members of the LGBTQ+ community. In over half of the states that do not have such protections in place, workers are allowed to marry their same-sex partners, but can also be fired on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity.
The outcome of these Supreme Court cases will be massively consequential. They will decide whether or not LGBTQ+ people can exist in a workplace environment, have equal access to job opportunities, and, ultimately, whether or not they can even make a living at all. This is especially important when considering how LGBTQ+ people — youths in particular — face homelessness and poverty at disproportionately high rates. Forty percent of homeless youths identify as LGBTQ+ and 30 percent of clients that occupy housing programs identify as LGBTQ+. One in four LGBTQ+ individuals — 2.2 million people — report that they do not have enough food to feed their families. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ folks of color face even higher rates of discrimination and poverty; for example, the average Black trans woman makes under $10,000 a year.
If the Supreme Court rules against the plaintiffs in its upcoming decisions, it is likely that these statistics will get even worse.
For cases with such high stakes, they have drawn surprisingly little attention on this campus and at large. Since Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, which guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage, it seems that there has been a tendency to place LGBTQ+ issues on the back burner. For years preceding Obergefell, gay marriage was the issue that gained the most press attention nation-wide. After the fight for legal gay marriage finally ended, it seems that LGBTQ+ activism has lost a lot of the attention, traction, and allyship that it developed over the years. I have literally heard people make statements like, “LGBTQ+ people can marry now — they’re equal, what else could they possibly want now?”
The reality is that the Trump administration has been actively involved in both the cases being heard this week, especially considering that several of the administration’s top lawyers have been assigned to defend the employers in these cases. The administration’s active participation in these cases is no coincidence, considering the fact that Trump himself chose an outspoken anti-LGBTQ+ vice president. Mike Pence has openly advocated for conversion therapy, voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2007, and voted against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in 2010. These cases are just the most recent example in a long line of blatant attempts to actively discriminate against the community.
Transphobic rhetoric and arguments that have been used in both the Supreme Court hearings and in national debate about the topic in general are proof of this continuous discrimination. Different arguments against trans rights were brought up during arguments, despite having nothing at all to do with the matter at hand.
The most prominent example of this was the continuous questions about bathroom policies. For the past several years, there has been heated national debates about whether or not trans people should be able to use their preferred bathroom. Trans people argue that it is their right to use the bathroom with which they identify, while those who disagree this policy argue that this violates the rights of cisgender people who oppose this policy. Throughout the case, the legal team for the trans woman involved in the case continued to receive numerous questions about bathroom policies from Justices, despite the team reminding Justices that the case was strictly about whether or not someone can be fired for being trans. It is no surprise that the Justices who continued to return to this question were conservative-leaning.
The Justices’ focus on bathroom policies played into deeply transphobic rhetoric, and revealed where their true concerns lie. Justice Neil Gorsuch put it best: He and the other Justices are concerned with the “massive social upheaval” that could result from making a decision in favor of the plaintiffs in these cases.
It is cruel irony that the fate of LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace now rests in the hands of Trump-appointed Justices — particularly Gorsuch, who as of now seems to be leaning in favor of the plaintiffs. This is a shocking and somewhat promising development, given that Gorsuch is a Trump appointee. The most interesting part of this Supreme Court case is how the viewpoints of the different sects of Justices have turned. Typically, the left-leaning Justices tend to be contextualists — meaning that the text of the Constitution can change with the times, and is therefore up for loose interpretation — while right-leaning Justices tend to be originalists — meaning that they interpret the Constitution as it was literally written.
If the Supreme Court decides against either — or both — of the plaintiffs in these cases, the entire LGBTQ+ community will be affected. A loss for one part of the community is a loss for the entire community, and the outcome of these cases will have effects that last for decades. Keeping in mind the particularly concerning rhetoric in the case about gender identity, it is especially important that everyone stand in solidarity with trans people.
These are difficult times for the LGBTQ+ community. Their rights are on the line for decades to come, and the validity of their identities are being debated on a public stage. Thus, Solidarity within the LGBTQ+ community and from allies outside the community is more important now than ever.
By Jackie Brant
TW: Abortion Rights
At the State of the Union address Tuesday, President Donald Trump asserted a harsh anti-abortion stance. This comes after several weeks without mention of abortion policies from the Trump administration; of the past four addresses to Congress, the State of the Union address was the first time Trump has even mentioned abortion to members of Congress.
Many have been quick to assert that the reason Trump commented on abortion at all was to attempt to fire up his religious base for his upcoming re-election campaign. However, I would argue that it is highly significant that this sudden harsh stance just happened to coincide with one of the most powerful displays of women’s solidarity in congressional history.
The women sitting on the left side of the aisle Tuesday sent a striking and inspiring message to the country by collectively wearing white to the State of the Union address. While the tradition of wearing all white has been used for a variety of reasons by women throughout history — including creating an attention-grabbing visual effect for the fight for women’s suffrage and racial equality — the 106 women who chose to don all white outfits this past Tuesday symbolized a new era in the fight for women’s equality.
It is rare to see united fronts of any kind in politics these days. Party polarization has seemingly peaked under the Trump administration. There is seldom any cooperation between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and hardly any successful bipartisan initiatives enacted or bills passed. Despite these increasingly deep divisions, the Democratic Congresswomen of the 116th Congress — the most diverse in history —boldly expressed their solidarity with each other and the women of the United States, while simultaneously paying tribute to those who enabled them to vote and to hold these positions of power.
The all-white outfits highlighted these women’s willingness to support and protect each other despite other policy disagreements they might have. Most importantly, it showed Congress and the Trump administration what can happen when 106 powerful and diverse women stand in solidarity. Regardless of political party, I imagine that many women across the U.S. who were watching the State of the Union Address or who saw pictures of these 106 women felt inspired and empowered.
On the other hand, the topic of abortion has long been a dividing issue among women.As of 2018, only about 31 percent of women supported abortion being legal in all circumstances, and only 48 percent of women favored abortion being legal in certain circumstances. Finally, 50 percent of women identify as pro-choice, while 48% identify as pro-life, a nearly even divide.
It is essential that we begin to question why one of the most divisive women’s rights issues is the one that is the most talked about — particularly by Trump and the right. Most of the time when I hear Republican politicians engage in conversations about gender equality, the conversation centers almost exclusively around abortion. When people accuse feminists of being “too radical,” they almost always highlight feminist stances on abortion. Why do bipartisan discussions about gender equality consistently veer in this direction when inequalities of pay, health care, and safety are equally as pressing?
Politicians — particularly conservative men — have successfully used abortion to strategically divide and politically conquer women. Abortion increasingly seems to be an issue on which people are unwilling to compromise. Many pro-life individuals would not even consider voting for candidates who are pro-choice.
Growing up going to Catholic school, I encountered many women who identified as pro-life despite having otherwise progressive political views, especially regarding gender equality. Although their views on abortion and other gender-related issues such as equal pay were conflicting, they consistently identified as Republicans.
Although I’m sure many of these women would still be Republican regardless of their stance on abortion, I cannot help but wonder what would happen if conversations about gender equality didn’t revolve around abortion. What if other important issues were given as much media attention as abortion debates and bills?
This is why Trump’s comments on abortion in the face of an inspiring display of women’s solidarity simply cannot be a coincidence. Men — particularly ones in positions of power — benefit from keeping women divided. The women of the 116th Congress have consistently shown a strong united front.
This solidarity was embodied by their entrance to the State of the Union on Tuesday night. With the attention of the entire country, they sent a message to women across the United States that they would stand together. However, the feelings of unity that this image may have conjured in the women watching may have quickly dissipated at Trump’s very mention of abortion in the address. I cannot help but feel that these comments were meant to remind Republican women why they should not — or maybe cannot — be included in the Democrats’ display of solidarity.
Until women recognize that abortion is used by politicians to divide us, true equality seems out of reach. The sweeping policies that this change would require must be a bipartisan effort. Such legislation could be passed if women from both sides of the aisle stood in solidarity with each other. Thus, it is essential that we recognize the topics and rhetoric used to divide us, and reframe the gender equality conversation in a way that unites women from all backgrounds.
By Jackie Brant
TW: Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Assault
As the school year begins, it is imperative that students keep in mind the prevalence of sexual misconduct on campus and do what they can to minimize it in our community. Over 50 percent of sexual assaults on college campuses happen between August and November. Around 11 percent of all college students will be victims of sexual assault during their college careers, and 70 percent of campus survivors know their perpetrator prior to their assault.
Further, 23 percent of women in college report that they have experienced some sort of nonconsensual sexual contact. More than 50 percent of these victims do not report the act, as they do not view it as “serious enough” to report. Finally, one in five college students have witnessed some form of sexual misconduct, meaning that 20 percent of students have acted as bystanders during an act of sexual misconduct or violence.
Our sexual misconduct statistics here at Oberlin match these almost exactly. We are fortunate to have educational Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct workshops — sponsored by the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — that are required for all Oberlin students.
I have witnessed numerous interventions at parties or other events where bystanders used words and phrases taken directly from these workshops. However, simply intervening on behalf of a potential victim is not enough to bring down the rate of sexual misconduct on our campus.
On several occasions when I observed bystander intervention, the intervention — while effective in terms of ensuring a potential victim’s safety — did not stop the perpetrator from continuing their behavior with another person at another time and place.
Potential perpetrators do not necessarily have a specific target in mind; rather, they tend to prey on whomever they possibly can. While it is certainly valuable to remove people from potentially dangerous situations, it is equally important to take steps to ensure that the potential perpetrator does not cause harm in the future. Too many times I see people look on — or even laugh — while their friends are “coming on too strong” in the middle of a party. While you may not be directly responsible for sexual misconduct occurring, you are partially responsible if you see sexual misconduct happening and ignore it.
I am particularly talking about situations in which a perpetrator is drunk and not necessarily aware of their actions or the harm that they are causing. These situations are especially important considering that approximately half of all sexual assaults nationwide involve alcohol consumption. One study found that, depending on the sample size, anywhere between 34 and 74 percent of perpetrators were intoxicated at the time of the assault.
Alcohol consumption absolutely does not excuse assault. However, it seems that in cases of intoxication, intervention can be effective in preventing harm. Potential perpetrators who are drunk may not be aware of their actions or the impact of their actions in the moment, and many might not have taken those actions if they were sober.
As a student and a friend, you should want to protect other students from harm and to stop your friends from harming others. If you see someone you know in a position where they might harm another person, you are obligated to intervene in some way. If they are sober enough, talk to them and explain how their actions are harmful or have the potential to lead to harmful behavior. If they are not sober enough, distract them, ask them to go to the bathroom with you, or physically pull them away if you have to.
To a certain extent, I believe I feel safer here than I would at a different university; the amount of times I have seen students intervene on behalf of potential victims — even when they don’t know each other — is reassuring. However, as a student body, we have to take the next step in preventing sexual assault. It is not enough to just make sure that our friends are safe. When possible, we must make sure potential perpetrators do not commit sexual misconduct. This will be a focus of the Title IX office, the Sexual Information Center, and PRSM workshops this year, so it is imperative that all students actively engage with these programs to learn how to effectively protect fellow students.
Intervening in situations involving sexual misconduct — when we feel safe enough to do so — is not an option. It is an obligation we all have as members of the Oberlin College community. The best way to do this is by making sure we stop the perpetrators before they can commit any harm.
By Jackie Brant
TW: Sexual Assault
Allegations against Bill Cosby first emerged in 2005 after Andrea Constand filed a lawsuit against him. Thirteen years later, on April 26, 2018, Bill Cosby was convicted of sexual assault. The time gap between these events is simply unacceptable. Since the first report, there are now over 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, including accusations of drugging, raping, and offering to pay women for sex acts. This misconduct allegedly began in the 1960s and has continued into the present.
Yesterday, Cosby was convicted of three counts of aggravated, indecent assault against Andrea Constand that occured 14 years ago — one of the only cases within the statute of limitations — in a courtroom filled with countless other victims of his actions. The maximum sentence for his convictions is 30 years. However, it seems more likely that he will serve much less.
Cosby is now 80 years old. He has lived his entire life up to this point as a free man, having escaped any repercussions for egregious actions spanning a period of 50 years. His ability to escape any punishment is not due to a lack of reports. Police reports and lawsuits accusing Cosby of sexual misconduct have been accumulating for years, though they have only recently made national news. Last summer, Cosby’s trial resulted in a hung jury, yet he continued to get away with accusations even within the past year. We have to ask ourselves why he was able to get away with so many accusations against him — ones that clearly indicate a pattern in his behavior — for such a long time.
This is a prime reason why a statute of limitations should not exist for sexual assault cases. The statute of limitations exists for many crimes to ensure that there are physical and eyewitness accounts that have not deteriorated over time, and these laws vary by state. While I understand that sometimes evidence can become questionable after a long period of time, the cost of having a statute of limitations for sexual assault is simply not worth the damage it can do to survivors.
Sexual assault is different from so many other types of crime by nature. Survivors of these crimes typically feel immense amounts of shame, denial, and fear; this is a natural reaction to being violated or abused. Furthermore, if the case makes it to trial, it is almost guaranteed that survivors will be required to take the stand and publicly tell and relive what happened to them, while opening themselves up to cross-examination designed to invalidate and sometimes personally attack the credibility of their story. Finally, because this country has a long history of victim-blaming, it is completely understandable why survivors would be hesitant to put themselves in a position to be harassed or not believed in such serious circumstances.
All these factors frequently delay or altogether prevent survivors from reporting sexual assault, which is why it is one of the most under-reported crimes in the U.S. It seems that most other serious crimes — such as kidnapping, major theft, and murder — do not have a statute of limitations. As a society, we need to ask ourselves why sexual assault is not included in this group. Does sexual assault not steal from the survivors? Does it not take away months, if not years, of victims’ lives? Why are we letting survivors of sexual assault watch their abusers escape punishment on technicalities, while they have suffered such atrocities?
Finally, it’s no secret that the rich and famous are heavily privileged in the American justice system. While the legal system in the U.S. is underfunded and lawyers can be so expensive that even individuals in the middle class struggle to afford them, there are billionaires who can afford all the high-powered lawyers and private investigators that they desire. Bill Cosby is just one example — others include Robert Blake, Kobe Bryant, Robert Richards IV, Vince Neil, Justin Bieber, Charlie Sheen, Harvey Weinstein, and — who could forget — Brock Turner. All these individuals either served a few weeks in jail with extreme preferential treatment or escaped jail altogether in exchange for a fine or for rehabilitation. We see a clear continuation of this pattern in Bill Cosby’s case.
Fortunately, the #MeToo movement has begun to address these crucial issues facing justice for sexual assault survivors, especially within Hollywood. Cosby was the first celebrity to stand trial for a sexual assault case since the #MeToo movement gained real momentum, and it undoubtedly played a role in Cosby’s conviction, especially considering that Cosby’s initial trial — which ended in a hung jury — occured before the #MeToo movement. While the defense team sought to delegitimize the women who testified against Cosby — and arguably the entire #MeToo movement — by claiming that Cosby could not be convicted based solely on emotional testimony and “mob rule,” the conviction symbolizes that the #MeToo movement has indeed affected the way individuals view sexual assault and has proven that survivors who stand together and speak out against injustice have and will continue to make a difference.
It is unacceptable that individuals who have committed sexual assault continue to escape justice on technicalities such as the statute of limitations, and that they are further able to dodge responsibility because of their wealth and privilege. It is unacceptable that Bill Cosby was not tried for his crimes when they were initially reported, and it is tragic that only one victim out of over 60 women was able to bring her accusations against him to the courtroom. Although he is certainly not the only one, Cosby serves as a prime and very modern example of the shortcomings of our legal system. The sheer amount of women who have come forward with accusations against him clearly displays the system’s bias against survivors of sexual assault and our bias in favor of their perpetrators. Additionally, the amount of years he was able to avoid prosecution and conviction is indicative of his privilege as a rich and prominent celebrity. Our system must do better. The United States cannot continue to fail sexual assault victims
By Jackie Brant
TW: Victimization and Sexual Misconduct
It has become common practice for colleges and universities across the U.S. to mandate sexual misconduct workshops for incoming students. At Oberlin, all new students are required to attend the first round of Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct workshops, and all athletes are required to attend the second, which is also open to the entire community. The mandatory first workshop is called The Essentials, and the second workshop is called Bystander Intervention. Together, these two workshops are meant to inform students about the importance and language of consent.
Overall, the PRSM workshops are crucial to the social atmosphere at Oberlin. I have heard stories and personally experienced instances in which people employed specific strategies learned from the workshops or asked for consent using phrases suggested by PRSM. The small group style of the workshops is much more successful in encouraging all students to participate and engage with the material than the big lectures that are used at many other colleges and universities.
However, the PRSM curriculum has an unfortunate practice of ranking various situations dealing with oppression and sexual misconduct as “better” or “worse” than others. Though these activities highlight important examples of sexual misconduct issues that must be recognized and addressed, they also contribute to a hierarchy of victimization.
During one activity in the Bystander Intervention workshop, categories of unacceptable behavior such as “catcalling,” “nonconsensual groping,” “rape” and others were provided, and groups of students were asked to rank these categories in order of “social acceptableness.” Such an activity unnecessarily imposes a hierarchical system into the discussion of sexual misconduct. It is a useless practice that inevitably contributes to the notion that some victims of crimes such as sexual assault are more deserving of sympathy than others, depending on what they experienced.
The ranking of different types of sexual misconduct contributes to the idea that some individuals or groups are less violated than others and can discourage individuals who have experienced “lesser” offenses from speaking up about their experiences. Further, as Meagen Hildebrand and Cynthia Najdowski wrote in Albany Law Review, a hierarchy can delegitimize an individual’s trauma or emotions, affecting “the extent to which victims come forward to report their experiences and, subsequently, how their cases are handled in the criminal justice system.” Ultimately, victims can feel silenced and fear that their experiences are not severe enough to warrant attention. This then validates the hierarchy of victimization and contributes to other issues such as victim blaming and the delegation of lesser sentences.
At an institution such as Oberlin, we should be at the forefront of fighting all forms of sexual assault and supporting survivors. While PRSM is necessary and beneficial in many ways, workshop leaders should revise its agenda in a way that addresses the problem of the hierarchy of victimization rather than contributes to it. It is also overly optimistic to think that two workshops are enough to permanently change the ways students look at sexual misconduct and consent. If Oberlin truly cares about these issues, ongoing workshops should be required throughout students’ four years, and should be restructured so as not to belittle any forms of sexual misconduct.