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Duke, its Reduction on the Statute of Limitations for Reporting Sexual Assault, and the Resultant Perpetuation of Rape Culture

A few years ago, behind closed doors on this very campus, Duke’s administration decided that it wanted to enable a living hell for one out of every five of you college girls reading this article. (i)

What kind of living hell?

Let us put this into perspective. Chances are you are currently sitting in the library or in class. Look around you. As demonstrated by the self-admission of college-aged men questioned in a university study, there is about a one in twelve chance that a boy you are looking at in your immediate surroundings has committed an act that met the legal definition of rape. (ii) That same boy is almost guaranteed to not identify as a rapist.

As a setting historically known to be highly conducive to sexual misconduct and rape culture, a college campus should be ethically impelled to uphold strict laws protecting victims of these circumstances where it fails to actually prevent the crimes committed against them. The reason for this is two-fold.

Firstly and obviously, campuses act in the spirit of the legal mantra “justice where justice is due.” But there is also a subtler, moral reason that a campus should feel obligated to go beyond the bare legal requirements in maintaining a safe campus. We Duke students are more than just liabilities. We are what provides this university with its greatness, and so we need an environment that will allow us to do just that.

An individual who has been sexually harassed on campus should not be lamented as part of the inevitable margin of error in protection, and given little option for recourse. A student is not a statistic, and a survivor does not stop being a victim after he or she was raped. Duke needs to ensure that victims do not again become victims, this time of the trauma of seeing their assaulters on campus, thus aggravating their possible post traumatic stress disorder and triggering painful memories that may render them utterly incapacitated, unable to leave their rooms, and incapable of getting through the menial tasks of their daily lives, let alone the rigorous academic functions required of them by a top-tier university such as Duke. These students no longer have an environment that affords them the opportunity to make their school great.


The way to ensure an appropriate environment is to allow students the time to heal so that they can eventually feel empowered to seek reparations. Merely giving a student the option to seek reparations before they have had sufficient time to recover denies survivors the opportunity they deserve, and so justice is never served. This is exactly the circumstance that Duke’s statute of limitations now encourages. A statute of limitations establishes an allotment of time during which legal action may be pursued. Duke’s statute of limitations is currently limited to a scant one year.

The crests of universities similar to ours, such as Columbia, Brown, Georgetown, Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth, decorate the outer walls of West Union to signify our desire to emulate their greatness. But they have NO statute of limitations. Until we can follow their example, Duke can never be among the greats.

So why then did Duke decide to reduce its statute of limitations on reporting any kind of assault on campus from two years to one year?

Numerous administrators have conceded that, when determining how to meet the new stipulations of the government’s Title IX, which now that dictates the sexual assault policy of a university must match the standard assault policy, it would be an easier process to reduce the two-year sexual misconduct statute instead of increasing the already one year standard assault misconduct statute.


What about preventing sexual assault victims from reliving their terrors over and over again every time they walk into a crowd of students? What about ending victims’ fear of seeing the perpetrators who rendered them powerless? What about leaving many victims susceptible to nervous breakdowns, while their perpetrator goes about normal, daily life?

Is this not worth the extra paperwork for the administration?

In response to questions concerning the university’s motives on the policy change, some, like Benjamin Reese, Vice President of the Office for Institutional Equity, and Cynthia Clinton, the Director of Harassment Prevention, have sent individuals looking for answers on a wild goose chase to find the minutes from the exact meeting that decided the statute reduction. Both administrators claimed they did not know themselves exactly why the committee chose to reduce the sexual assault statue instead of extending the standard assault statute, and so were unqualified to answer. That seems quite bizarre, given that Reese is the University’s designated Title IX implementer and coordinator.(iii) But interestingly enough, it turns out that both of them were members on that very committee. (iv)

Are the committee decision makers truly unaware of why the policy was changed?

Or, are they ashamed of the moral implications of their decision and fearful of its repercussions should their low-profile resolution go very public?

According to Clause IV of Duke’s harassment policy, “This statute of limitations is intended to encourage complainants to come forward as soon as possible after the offending conduct and to protect respondents against complaints that are too old to be investigated effectively.” (v) 

Due to the nature of the healing process for survivors in the aftermath, many are unable to speak out against their offenders and seek recourse until undergoing an intense recovery period. Even then, taking judicial action and having to relive their terrors remains extremely difficult for them.


When flyers with fairly neutral quotes from sexual assault victims that concerned their experience with the statute change were plastered around campus, the biggest backlash came from assault survivors themselves, who voiced that merely seeing the flyers triggered nervous breakdowns. According to one campus rape survivor, “All those quotes really caught me off guard…the flyers were a bit overwhelming. Saw them yesterday morning on the way to class, couldn’t look away, and experienced the first debilitating flashback I’ve had in months.” (vi)

If relatively non-graphic words on a piece of paper can trigger such severe of a reaction, how is a victim expected to be emotionally stable enough to report within a “timely manner,” let alone deal with the inevitability of seeing his or her actual offender in person, when he or she fails to meet the reporting deadline?

The solution, says Larry Moneta, is to conduct mediation. Let me spell that out for you: even survivors who have already gone through intensive therapy, who are still triggered by flyers and seeing their offender from afar, should be subjected to sitting directly across from those offender in a room and discussing the offense that they have tried so desperately and fruitlessly to banish from their memories…?

The suggestion is borderline inhumane.

Even if the victim is emotionally capable of reporting, for obvious reasons he or she may not consider it not academically wise to do so, especially if the offender is a professor with whom that person needs to take a class with in the future. Or perhaps he or she is studying abroad the next semester and will be unable to deal with huge ordeal of filing charges from halfway across the world.

At face value, Duke’s “investigated effectively” contention suggests that the school is concerned about evidence integrity after a year. Duke want to ensure that enough solid proof exists to convict. This is indeed a legitimate concern. However, in the spirit of justice, those adjudicating a case should determine the substantiality of the evidence. Regardless of how much time has elapsed, if the prosecuting party still has sufficient evidence to provide, then he or she should be allowed to present it in a disciplinary hearing.

That particular clause also masks a greater fear of the university’s: the possibility of false accusations, a point that has often been brought up in defense of the statute’s reduction, likely due to the administration’s phobia of another Duke lacrosse scandal. In response to that, the quite obvious response is that if a prosecuting party is making up the entire assault incident anyways, all he or she would need to do is to choose a date within the time allotted by the statute for the fabricated event to have occurred.

Reducing the statute does nothing to limit false reporting, but instead only hurts the true victims.

Preventing false reporting is extremely important as well, as it can indeed ruin an innocent individual’s life, but reducing the statute is not the way to go about doing this. That is more related to evidence standard and integrity, and is an entirely separate issue of discussion. The frequency of false reporting for rape is also the same as it is for almost every other crime, at 2-8%, according to the American Prosecutors Research Institute. (vii)

Another extremely influential individual in the administration has said that the effort it would take to reverse or extend the statute of limitations would not be worth it, as it would affect only a very small number of people.

To that, I ask: How many sexual assaults and other forms of harassment are enough before it is worth taking action?

Is protecting one person not enough?

When the average college rapist commits 4-5 offenses before he is caught, shouldn’t stopping a rapist after the first crime be of the utmost importance to save others from the same horrible fate? (viii)

The Duke lacrosse scandal has indeed permanently scarred the administration. Though the accusations that started it all turned out to be false, the case still exposed the inadequacies of Duke’s policies concerning the protection of students from harassment and sexual assault. Ever since then, Duke has wanted to make it seem as if much progress has been made since those days. It proudly cites its strategy of focusing on prevention over punishment. But the fact of the matter is that focusing on these things is not mutually exclusive.

And we have made progress. The lacrosse scandal is actually what gave rise to Duke’s modern-day women’s center.

The reality is, fewer rapes reported don’t mean fewer rapes, though Duke might like it to mean that. When 20% of women and 4% of men are sexually assaulted, but only six students reported a sexual assault to Duke last year (one of whom was turned away for exceeding the one year mark), the proof is in the numbers alone that we are a long way from the true progress we need in reducing sexual assault. (ix)

If anything, Duke is encouraging rape culture by fostering an environment where perpetrators don’t see repercussions for their crimes. In the study mentioned earlier, 35% of college-aged men admitted that they would be likely to commit an act of rape if they knew they would not be caught or punished. (x)

So if Duke is willing to protect its shell reputation before protecting its own students, it is up to us students to stand up for each other. Any action that will result must be incited through either media attention and shame, or the much-preferred alternative: reminding Duke to recall what it stands for and to recall the common decency we all know that it is capable of. Stand up, Duke. Allow every one of your students the chance to reflect your emergent greatness.

END NOTE: Because this publication is geared towards undergraduate women, it was written to provide information primarily relating to such. However, a not insignificant number of men are also the victims of sexual assault (4%).(vi) Most all perpetrators are men (99%).(xi) Victims are not just heterosexual either. 11.7% of college-aged gay or bisexual men, and 30.6% of college-aged lesbian or bisexual women reported having been at one time forced into sex against their will.(xii) However, most perpetrators are, with 98% of men who have raped boys being heterosexual.(xiii)

If you have been sexually assaulted, regardless of your gender, please call the Women’s Center at 919-684-3897

I did what’s write, now do what’s right.

Photo Sources: 1 2 3 4 

i  Fisher, B.S., Cullen, F.T., & Turner, M.G. (2000). The Sexual Victimization of College Women. National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

ii  Crisis Connection. National College Health Risk Behavior Survey. Fisher, Cullen & Turner, 2000. Warshaw, 1998.
iii  http://www.provost.duke.edu/pdfs/fhb/FHB_App_W.pdf
iv  http://academiccouncil.duke.edu/minutes/archive/2004-2005/november-18/
v  http://www.duke.edu/web/harassmentprevention/har_policy.htm
vi  http://dukegroups.duke.edu/develledish/2012/a-call-to-stop-rape/
vii  http://ndaa.org/pdf/the_voice_vol_3_no_1_2009.pdf
viii  http://www.wcsap.org/sites/www.wcsap.org/files/uploads/webinars/SV%20on%…
ix  Douglas, K. A. et al. “Results From the 1995 National College Health Risk Behavior Survey.” Journal of American T
x  Malamuth, N. M. “Rape Proclivity Among Males.” Journal of Social Issues 7 (1981): 138-57.
xi  Greenfeld, L. A. Sex Offenses and Offenders: An Analysis of Data on Rape and Sexual Assault, Washington, D. C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997.
xii  Young, K.. “National Statistics About Sexual Violence on College Campuses.” National statistics about sexual violence on college campuses. Creative Commons Attribution, 2010. Web. 20 Jul 2012. 
xiii  “Sexual Abuse of Boys,” Journal of the American Medical Association, December 2, 1998.


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