#WakeUpSULaw: THE General Body Calls on SU Law to Stop Victim-Blaming & Push for Better Services

wakeupsulaw

Last semester, four female SU law students were drugged at house parties–likely by a fellow law student. One student has come forward to file a formal complaint and circulated this petition to hold SU Law accountable and draw attention to critical gaps in services on campus: #WakeUpSULaw: Adequately Address this Student Safety Issue. The petition identifies several important needs:

1) For the Dean of Law to address the student body about the attacks

2) For SU Law to counter victim-blaming by shifting its focus to the perpetrator(s)

3) For SU Law to make information about campus services available to law students.

THE General Body stands in solidarity with #WakeUpSULaw and calls on SU Law–and the SU campus more broadly–to implement these recommendations immediately. The law school’s desire to keep this issue “in-house” speaks to a nationwide trend towards silencing survivors of gender-based violence for the sake of avoiding negative PR.

SU Law School Needs to Take these Attacks Seriously

Syracuse University College of Law is actively trying to distance itself from these attacks by reducing the number of attacks and describing them as off campus instead of emphasizing how the perpetrator(s) is likely in our classrooms. In an Above the Law article on the SU law school druggings, Assistant Dean Tomas Gonzalez is quoted as saying:

This is an active investigation so we are limited in what we can provide. What I can tell you is about two weeks ago we did received a report from a law student concerning possible drink tampering at a house party several miles off-campus during the end of fall semester. The College of Law actively encouraged the student to report this incident to the police and she did. The incident is currently under investigation. To date, this is the only student from which we have received a report.

While only one student has filed a police report, SU law is and has been aware of all four druggings.

Furthermore, Gonzalez attempts to minimize the university connection by emphasizing that the one drugging he is willing to acknowledge occurred “several miles off-campus.”  SU–in accordance with the federal Jeanne Clery Act–is required to disclose information about crime in and around campuses, and the SU campus community often receives “off-campus burglary” notifications via e-mail. However, there have been no notifications about on- or off-campus druggings and assaults that (as in this case) occurred a mere 1.1 to 1.4 miles from campus at house parties thrown for and by SU law students, and are likely to suggest SU law students as perpetrators. One of the survivors stated, “While all three parties [where survivors were drugged] had a few non-law students in attendance–random relatives, significant others or friends–none of the same non-law students were at the other two parties. Our house parties mostly consist of SU law students.”

SU Law School Needs to Stop Victim-Blaming

Although SU Law held a forum in response to these attacks on students, the forum reproduced the victim-blaming rhetoric that maintains a culture of silence and allows assault to continue, particularly against women. While a Vera House spokesperson–along with several people who made interventions during the audience Q&A–attempted to shift the focus to working to combat rape culture and hold perpetrators accountable, the forum overwhelmingly maintained a focus on victim responsibility. This raises major concerns for the campus community.

At the forum, a “What Would You Do?” video about date-rape drugging was shown as a way of encouraging students to intervene if they see someone putting drugs in another person’s drink. Unfortunately, the video puts the onus of responsibility on the victim rather than targeting the perpetrator. In the video, a man and woman (played by actors) are out on a first date and he drugs her drink. When he leaves to go to the restroom, the couple sitting next to them asks the woman to get another drink, saying “I wouldn’t drink that if I were you.” At no point do they tell her that it’s been drugged. At no point is there a focus on the issue of how to make sure that people don’t get drugged, not just how to deal with it when it happens. Furthermore, the video makes the argument that if you’re dressed in a “skimpy” dress, people are less likely to intervene if they see someone putting drugs in your drink–that there will be “not as much sympathy” for a date-rape victim who looks like she’s “been there, done that.”

A DPS officer presented a series of slides emphasizing the precautions that potential-victims should take, rather than making a commitment to fight rape culture. The slides in this officer’s presentation–which were labeled “Prevention”–covered the following:

  • Reporting suspicious activity to local law enforcement, supervisors, co-workers, professors, or administrators
  • Being aware of your surroundings & personal items
  • Prevent attacks by avoiding sharing drinks, watching for tampering, and not drinking anything that tastes funny

Truly working to prevent assault would mean a concrete commitment to justice for those who were attacked, finding the perpetrator(s), and actively working to dismantle rape culture. These slides–like the video–hold victims and onlookers accountable for assault and leave perpetrators completely out of the picture.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the forum was the reaction of others in attendance. During the Q&A, one person remarked that “The person writing the article about these assaults is creating a circus. We don’t even know these allegations are true.” After the forum was over, other attendees high-fived her. Hostile comments like these discredit and disparage those who are speaking out. In response, another person in attendance at the forum remarked afterward that “it is disconcerting to see a woman doubt and dismiss another woman’s experience of being drugged, particularly given the fact that these attacks are usually gender-based.”

In response to these troubling dynamics, law professor Paula Johnson drew attention to the forum’s focus on victims and re-focused the room on the need to target perpetrators: “I wonder, what would the difference be had the presentation begun with a focus on what was wrongful behavior and whatever its variation–opposite gender, same gender.” A representative from Vera House also encouraged those present to focus on prevention; several attendees followed up by stating that we need to “create the expectation in society that drugging people against their will is absolutely unacceptable” and to take these criminal acts seriously, treating them “with open hostility [and] shame.” While these comments helped to reframe the forum, the law school, DPS, and students need to take responsibility for reproducing the rhetoric of victim-blaming.

What Should the SU Campus Community Know?

  1. DPS may do investigations of incidents like this, but criminal investigations are ultimately done by local police departments.
  2. There is 24 hour help available through Vera House and the Counseling Center (including people to escort you to the hospital).
  3. Crouse Hospital does not test for date-rape drugs. However, a rape kit does include this test. The Vera House representative at the law school forum clarified that if you wish, you can ask for only the drug test portion of the rape kit (and will not be required to do a physical exam). Some date-rape drugs leave the system quickly, so get tested as soon as you can.
  4. If you have a drug test done at the Counseling Center, it is for your information only and cannot be used in criminal proceedings. If you get a test done at the hospital, then it can be used in criminal proceedings. At the law school forum, the Vera House representative also clarified that you can get this test done before you decide whether you want to file a report with DPS or the police.
  5. Ending assault necessitates a culture change. Join those speaking up in support of victims, against those who would victim-blame, and for services and investigations that support victims and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.

We call on law school Dean Hannah Arterian to issue a statement to SU College of Law expressing concern about the four students who were drugged and pledging to commit to a thorough investigation, ensuring that the SU campus community will be a safe place for everyone.

Please support SU Law Students and hold the law school accountable by signing the #WakeUpSULaw petition. If you are an SU alumni, the parent of an SU student, or a concerned community member, call the Dean’s Office (315-443-2524) to voice your concern.

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