Sexual Assault Persists On College Campuses Even As Schools Take Steps To Fight It

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Photo: Colin Mulvany 


Bekkah Leggett winces when she thinks about the three young women who were allegedly drugged at a Washington State University fraternity house in early September.

Leggett said she and her roommate visited Pullman Regional Hospital that night for an unrelated matter, and listened as nurses carted young women into the emergency room.

“In the four hours I was there, we heard three unresponsive people being brought in,” she said. “They were just like, ‘Rush her in! She’s unresponsive, not responding to light.’”

Meanwhile, allegations were surfacing. Three women told Pullman police they felt as though they had been drugged at the Delta Upsilon house on the evening of Sept. 2 and morning of Sept. 3. One of them, an 18-year-old, said she was given alcohol and then sexually assaulted.

The fraternity chapter remains suspended, although no one has been charged in connection with the allegations.

As a college student and victim of rape herself, Leggett said she was upset – but not surprised – when she read the headlines.

“That was from one night,” she said. “People party every day here.”

It’s been said countless times: Sexual assault is a persistent problem on college campuses, often complicated by drugs and alcohol, social pressures and intimidating reporting processes. Victims face lasting trauma, and many are too scared to name their attackers. Police grapple with conflicting claims and lack of evidence. Colleges face intense scrutiny for their handling of allegations.

Schools in the Inland Northwest say they’re doing everything they can to prevent sexual misconduct, promote healthy relationships, help victims recover and properly discipline the accused. But Leggett and other advocates say it’s an uphill battle to reverse misguided ideas about gender roles and consent.

“Here’s a pretty good example of rape culture,” Leggett said in an interview at her College Hill apartment. “When I had my high school graduation party, I got three things of pepper spray that go on a keychain. All my male friends got condoms and booze.”

She paused. “That pretty much sums up what college is like for women.”

‘It shouldn’t be expected’

The morning after her hospital visit, Leggett took to Facebook. She posted on a group page that WSU students use to plan parties and bar runs.

Her message encouraged women to be cautious and scolded those who have slipped pills into other students’ drinks.

“THIS NEEDS TO STOP,” she wrote. “It’s only the second week of school and there’s already ER rooms flooding because of this. Please help keep each other safe.”

Hundreds of students saw the post, and many responded with words of support. But a few commenters were argumentative or dismissive.

One student, a Delta Upsilon member, suggested young women should know their limits when drinking. His comments were quickly deleted amid criticism from other students.

The response showed that some students need a better understanding of the cultural factors that play into sexual assault, Leggett said.

“A guy can be passed out in the lawn, and nothing is going to happen to him,” she said. “He’s going to wake up in the morning and have some drawings on his face. That’s not going to be the case for a woman.”

She added that synthetic drugs are increasingly common at parties, and many students take them voluntarily without fully understanding their effects.

“People on campus here call them the Hulks,” she said. “Apparently they’re supposed to be way better than just a regular Xanax.”

Research suggests that more than half of college sexual assaults happen during the stretch from August to November, and that students are most at risk during their first few months on campus. That time frame is commonly referred to as the “red zone.”

Leggett, who is 23, said personal responsibility is important, but victims are too often blamed for being naive or making themselves vulnerable.

“Oh, you were really drunk. You were at a party. You live in Pullman. That’s expected,” she said, rattling off familiar excuses. “It shouldn’t be expected.”

Study: 23 percent of undergraduate women have been raped, assaulted

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