A key issue is whether certain exclusive student clubs can be reformed and be trusted to maintain that reform. The historical evidence across societies raises scepticism as the traditional ones often cannot be relied on to carry out any proposed reforms over time. This remains a grave matter related to risk that can be fatal and to gender-based violence that is serious in its consequences, and both forms can be defined as criminal. This leads to the issue of sanctioning or even abolishing such institutions that enthusiastically seek to ‘go over the edge’. There is also strong evidence of a defensive wall of denial in some self-congratulatory universities, which allowed offenders to get away with forms of abuse over long periods. Of the essence here is accountability, with universities making persistent efforts to provide a safe environment for all students but particularly for women and where such student societies are tightly regulated with sanctions including permanent banishment. For the university cannot allow serious high risk and interpersonal criminal conduct within its domain.
Timely and urgent, this book examines the culture and governance of colleges and universities regarding both excess in elite student societies and sexual violence, particularly against female students. Taking into account the deaths, serious injuries and grave sexual abuse taking place among student populations, the book takes a criminological and sociological perspective on the institutions, offenders and victims involved.
With high profile court cases and media responses driving demand for reform, the author considers institutional reactions and concludes with recommendations to improve crime prevention, accountability and the support for survivors.
This book examines crime, deviance, injustice, prejudice, discrimination and victimization in educational institutions but largely in colleges and universities. It details two, at times, related elements: ‘excesses’ in mostly elite male student societies; and sexual abuse particularly against female students. Importantly, the focus on ‘deviance and crime on campus’ has to be placed in the context of serious institutional failure; and that, in turn, is amplified by a wider system failure regarding policing, prosecutions and the judiciary. Indeed, underpinning that dual institutional failure are deeply rooted historical and societal assumptions leading to the tolerance of elite student excess as well as engrained societal prejudices regarding sexual violence in general but held against women in particular.
A pivotal issue is the role of the college-university in the regulation of student societies through private justice and in the manner they regulate and enforce internal rules, regulations and laws. For who is accountable? The focus in this chapter is especially on US fraternities, drawing on an insightful and disturbing article by Flanagan (2014). The US has around 2,600 accredited colleges and universities and if they receive federal aid then they have to comply with federal guidelines. But with so many institutions, public and private, and within 50 states – each having its own legislation and with varying compliance cultures – this means that compliance with federal guidelines is patchy if not resistant. Moreover, US fraternities typically have a complex institutional structure, with national organizations possessing considerable financial means, legal support and political influence. This structure, with an assertive and well-resourced Political Action Committee (PAC) at the national level, is not true in the other societies dealt with here.
In recent years there has been a shift to criminal prosecutions, with convictions as well as civil cases sometimes followed by the resignations of senior officials. Fostering this tougher stance was that sexual abuse on the American campus had become a national issue by 2016, with ‘an endless stream’ of disturbing scandals that could no longer be dismissed as incidents. Institutions had failed to investigate, had let down victims and had granted perpetrators immunity. Fostering that move was a string of abuse cases at Wesleyan indicating the unwillingness of some fraternities to change, and the one at Baylor conveying how an ostensibly grave case could nevertheless elicit weak sanctioning. And then there were deeply disturbing abuse cases related to college sports, with some leading to high public concern including the widely publicized one involving Chanel Miller at Stanford. Behind much of this were elements of cynicism, hypocrisy and cowardice.
Elite student societies – the corps in the Netherlands and Belgium, fraternity in the US and club in the UK – were predominantly male, exclusive and indulged in various forms of excess, often cloaked by secrecy. The more elite societies tended to have severe initiations, at times leading to injury or even death. Typically, the societies went into defence mode and the colleges/universities reacted poorly or even malignly.
This chapter looks at: US society and its criminal justice system; campus policing; and control and compliance. Regarding abuse on campus there is an urgency given the ‘epidemic’ of cases. Wealth plays an important role in the US and it influences politics, the media, higher education and criminal justice; hence; money and legal muscle can strongly impact on cases and on institutional responses. In particular, hardline methods are typically employed in the US against female victims regarding sexual offences. Then parents of a male student accused of sexual offences typically resort to expensive lawyers who strongly contest any allegations and use every appeal opportunity to prolong proceedings, while battling to weaken any proposed sanctions. Further, the chapter examines: the treatment of victims; ‘private justice’ in schools; campus scandals and sexual abuse; and the sometimes complicit role of sororities in offences. There is also the contested area of false accusations, drawing on the real ‘Seccuro’ case – at the University of Virginia in 1984– and a student’s false complaint and ensuing turmoil.
The material here has to be placed in the wider context of long-standing and deeply rooted prejudice and discrimination against women in many societies, along with high levels of sexual abuse and harassment in some organizations, professions and institutions, including colleges/universities. Moreover, the law and assumptions about sexual offences vary across and within societies. This chapter examines the policing of sexual offences comparatively and how bias and prejudice impact on enforcement. The features of prejudice and discrimination have often affected female students in the US and Western societies seeking justice following abuse. They often encounter persistent and flawed assumptions, demeaning tactics and the downplaying of the gravity of sexual offences.
Student life generally involves a degree of ebullience and in the traditional US/UK universities that was largely within the residential colleges, each with its own subculture, rituals and practices. Within those colleges, diverse student societies or clubs were founded, with some indulging in excess that has been documented in college records, news reports, films and memoirs, but some has been cloaked in secrecy. Within Anglo-American universities there were distinctions within elites as in Oxford, with elite exclusive clubs whose members went on to high political functions, but some indulged in excess and the destruction of property. Women were often excluded, except on specific occasions, and on some occasions there was abuse, which was typically not reported. There was often an element of risk and violence especially in the US, leading to injury or even a fatality.
No one should underestimate the impact of Criminal Women, published in 1985, not least because it emerged at a time when, although there was some awakening of interest in the misfortunates of women in conflict with the law and enmeshed in the criminal justice system (CJS), there was by no means proper recognition of the need for gender-sensitive or gender-responsive policies and practices. The book was powerful; the women’s stories of their experiences of pathways into crime and experiences of the CJS and allied agencies harrowing.
In some ways, the intervening years between then and now have led to two steps forwards and three steps backwards in penal policy and practices. We have witnessed the development of community centres or services for women following the Together Women initiative taken by the Labour Government in the early 2000s, building on best practice developed by small-scale projects such as the 218 Centre in Scotland and the Asha Centre in England and Wales, and leading to the creation of over 40 such community centres for women at risk and women caught up in the CJS. Often, these have served as places of hope and of refuge for women, where there has been genuine care, constructive dialogue and steps forwards and away from crime and the CJS. At the same time, we have seen such centres falter and collapse through a lack of funding. In 2018, we saw a Conservative Government Female Offender Strategy which appears to recognise the need for early interventions.