Rape Culture Lives Here

At the University of Cincinnati and Miami University, sexual assault has become one of the most studied subjects on campus. The administrations are struggling to earn a passing grade.
McMicken Hall, University of Cincinnati

Photograph by Eqroy / Shutterstock.com


I’m in Rohs Street Café, just off the University of Cincinnati campus, waiting to meet a group of students. As baristas noisily steam milk behind the counter, Grace Cunningham and three friends wave hesitantly at me in that awkward, strangers-meeting-in-public kind of way. Cunningham, steely but friendly with pixie cropped hair, wears glasses, a black hoodie, leggings, and carts a backpack adorned with buttons. Her group of four immediately becomes three as one young woman breaks away for her own table.

The women are sexual assault survivors—the term they prefer instead of victim—and while the fourth opted not to be interviewed, she came in support of the others. “She has anxiety,” Roxanne van Dams, another survivor, explains.* “She’s just going to sit over there and color.”

Kenna Corey, a junior education major with long, wavy blonde hair and large, earnest eyes, sits down while Cunningham and van Dams get something to drink. Corey, who says she was assaulted in high school, transferred out of two other schools before landing at UC, each time “trying to run away from being controlled by powerful relationships.” Van Dams, a premed sophomore, describes having been assaulted eight times, twice since becoming a student at UC. Cunningham, a junior sociology major, says she was assaulted and robbed off-campus as a sophomore by a former UC football player, whom she did not know.

Back at the table with coffees, the three women waste little time listing the problems they see on campus regarding sexual assault. Support services are underfunded and understaffed. The Title IX office, to which on-campus sexual assaults are reported, has no permanent, full-time coordinator (and hasn’t in over a year). Sexual assault policies in UC’s official student code of conduct are confusing and at times refer students to resources or programs that no longer exist, or in the survivors’ view include incomplete definitions of “consent.” As Cunningham notes, UC policy provides that if a student cheats on a test, he or she may be expelled; in contrast, UC policy treats sexual misconduct as one form of “nonacademic misconduct,” which, along with breaking dorm rules and weapon usage, is not assigned a specific punishment. And then there’s the tacit acceptance of rape jokes around campus, such as the banner hung on an off-campus house in August 2016, the weekend before classes started, that read: “YOUR DAUGHTER GOT A GAG REFLEX?”

This is why Cunningham and her group of friends founded Students for Survivors, an on-campus student-run advocacy group. The problems, as they define them, range from unclear and unenforced university policy to lack of staffing to a general insensitivity in the very words used to describe sexual assault. Warnings issued by the university after incidents include advice like “Travel and attend social gatherings with a group of people you trust,” and “Criminals prefer impaired victims. Don’t drink to excess.”

Roxanne van Dams, Grace Cunningham, and Kenna Corey (left to right) photographed at the University of Cincinnati on April 24, 2017.

Photograph by Michael Wilson


“The idea that someone can stop the assault from happening”—either by walking in groups, watching one’s alcohol intake, or avoiding fraternities with a reputation for drugging drinks—“it’s very victim-blaming,” says Cunningham. Students for Survivors objects to the premise that a woman may invite assault simply because she failed to guard herself sufficiently. (And it is usually a “she,” though not exclusively.)

Last December, Cunningham, Corey, and van Dams were among a group of students who staged a sit-in outside UC’s administrative offices. The protesters wore tape over their mouths, to symbolize how sexual assault survivors are too often silenced or dismissed. Their views have notable support.


In April 2011, the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released a 19-page “Dear Colleague” letter on how to address sexual harassment at colleges across the nation. The letter stated that to be compliant with Title IX—a law that prohibits sexual discrimination in education and requires a school environment free from harassment and assault—colleges and universities need to meet certain guidelines, such as designating a Title IX coordinator to handle complaints and adopting grievance procedures for “prompt and equitable” resolution of said complaints. (However, in 2016, the OCR clarified the Dear Colleague letter did not “carry the force of law,” despite the assumption on the part of many universities that compliance was required to avoid losing federal funding.)

Roxanne van Dams, photographed at the University of Cincinnati on April 24, 2017.

Photograph by Michael Wilson

In January 2015—just a few months after President Obama launched the It’s On Us campaign to curtail sexual assault on American campuses—the web lit up with news that Brock Turner, originally from Dayton, Ohio, was tackled by two bystanders who found him sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster at Stanford University. The shocking attack precipitated heightened national discussion of campus rape culture, especially after a California judge sentenced Turner to only six months in prison. Vice President Joe Biden penned an open letter to the survivor, writing, “You were failed by a culture on our college campuses where one in five women is sexually assaulted—year after year after year.”

Since 2011, OCR has launched 391 Title IX federal investigations into how college administrations are handling reports of sexual violence. UC joined that list in August 2016, due to a complaint from a rape survivor who alleged the university makes the campus a “sexually hostile environment for students.” In October, a male student who had been found responsible by the university for breaking the school’s code of conduct regarding sexual assault, brought further attention to the issue by filing a lawsuit against UC for allegedly violating his right to due process, part of a wave of lawsuits asserting that universities have swung too hard in the opposite direction in an effort to appear tough on rape. (A federal judge eventually ruled in his favor, and his suspension was rescinded.) By November, Miami University in Oxford joined the list of universities under federal investigations, due to a complaint claiming “the University failed to promptly and equitably respond to complaints, reports, and/or incidents of sexual violence of which it had notice,” thus subjecting students to a “sexually hostile environment.”

Kenna Corey, photographed at the University of Cincinnati on April 24, 2017.

Photograph by Michael Wilson

OCR investigations generally last two to four years and involve interviews with complainants, witnesses, and school administrators. At the conclusion, OCR and the institution come to an agreement as to which remedial actions will be implemented and how future cases will be handled. Under the Clery Act of 1990, universities are required to track reported rapes and other sexual offenses, though by looking at U.S. Department of Education figures, one could conclude sexual assault is rather uncommon. In 2015, the most recent year for which Clery statistics are available, seven criminal cases of rape were reported at UC, along with 51 cases of stalking and 14 cases of dating violence. At Miami, nine cases of criminal rape were reported, 17 cases of stalking, and eight instances of dating violence. But the Clery Act requires universities to count only reports of assaults on-campus—not incidents occurring at off-campus Greek housing or apartments—which results in a lower statistical rate of assault than would be reported under Title IX standards.

Anonymous student surveys paint a grimmer picture: In Miami’s 2015 Sexual Assault Climate Survey, nearly 34 percent of student respondents reported experiencing one or more types of sexual assault or misconduct. At UC, a similar survey showed almost 17 percent of students on the main campus had witnessed a situation they believed was or could have led to a sexual assault since the start of the 2015–2016 academic year.

In local dorm rooms, off-campus housing, and public spaces at universities across the country, women (and smaller numbers of men) are harassed, hurt, and raped. Most cases involve men assaulting women, but the harassment spans gender identities, is not always heterosexual, and generally ends with a survivor choosing not to prosecute or report the assault out of shame, fear, or distrust in the system. In a review of 96 redacted records of sexual assault spanning from 2014 to present from Miami University, and 41 heavily redacted Title IX reports from UC dating January 2014 to June 2016, the vast majority of survivors declined to pursue charges with local police or the university.

Grace Cunningham, photographed at the University of Cincinnati on April 24, 2017.

Photograph by Michael Wilson


In the year since her assault, Cunningham and Students for Survivors have served UC administrators with a list of 10 demands, including that the university update its policies on sex offenses (“with adequate and correct information”) and hire a full-time Title IX coordinator. “We sat in a meeting with them and cried, and told them about our experiences, and they still aren’t doing anything,” says Cunningham. She insists that, “if I’m not doing anything, who’s going to do it? It’s bigger than just this institution.”

This past February, Cunningham received word that her Title IX complaint was accepted by the Office of Civil Rights, thus placing the University of Cincinnati under a second federal investigation.


Over a single weekend in February at Miami University, 21 students were taken by ambulance to hospitals for various alcohol-related problems. It was two weeks after student Erica Buschick, 18, was found dead in her dorm room, with alcohol poisoning suspected as the cause of death.

Miami’s sexual assault records reveal a dangerous pattern of partying and binge drinking; the phrase “suspect is known to victim” appears repeatedly. Many reports begin with a night out at Uptown bars. In that setting, young adults—away from home, unsupervised, and with a low tolerance—suddenly find alcohol in abundance. Kristin Shrimplin, president and CEO of Women Helping Women, the foremost organization fighting gender-based violence in and around Cincinnati, repeats over and over again that intoxicated people cannot consent to sexual activity. It is worth repeating. Often, the reported incidents at Miami begin with drinks, a plan to make out or hook up, an agreement to oral sex or fondling, but a firm no to intercourse. The no is often ignored.

One woman reported being assaulted by five men at a Miami fraternity during orientation in June 2015, before her school year even started. Some survivors blackout and wake the next morning somewhere unexpected or without underwear. Others remember only having one drink then recall nothing else, leaving them to assume they were surreptitiously drugged. In one particular incident a survivor sent a series of text messages the next morning, telling the man who penetrated her while they were both drunk—and after she had said no—“It hurts,” “Not okay,” “I don’t like going all the way.” The accused texted back: “Yeah I vaguely remembered this morning and I’m mad at myself.” In another reported sexual assault, Miami’s records show a text exchange after a Tinder meet-up in a campus dorm that reads: “I hope we cool im not used to talkin to a virgin usually/The gurl says no but they really want it though but I see you wassent ready ….and i’m sorry i didn’t respect that but i promise i thought u wanted it/Ima good guy.”

According to Becca Getson, Miami’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator and Deputy Title IX Coordinator for Students, the university is attempting to balance discussions of the connection between alcohol and sexual assault—encouraging low-risk drinking, a “be safe and smart” message—with a recognition that regardless of what bystanders did or didn’t do, or how much alcohol was consumed, an assault is the perpetrator’s responsibility and “not the victim/survivor’s fault.”

Universities are in a tough spot. They must meet the needs of students who may already be survivors and want assistance from the start; those suffering the emotional turmoil of harassment or rape while navigating unfamiliar legal or institutional systems; and others who seem to think drunk or overpowered means yes. Some need help. Some need discipline. All need to be educated on the subject. And though the schools have faced years of pressure at the federal level, there is limited funding and precedent. Too often, the educational bureaucracy pushes reform to the backburner, either out of fear of bad P.R. or of admitting they are part of the problem. It’s a failure generations in the making.

Lana Pochiro is a senior at Miami and co-president of the student group Feminists Working on Real Democracy (F-WORD). She remembers when Miami began rolling out the Obama administration’s It’s On Us program and hearing from fellow concerned students, “What the hell is the university doing? Are they just putting stickers on laptops and saying, ‘We’re dealing with it?’ ” Pochiro was among a group of student activists who demanded deeper change in the form of a sexual assault advocate—a position that was filled last November by recent Miami grad Kathie Wollney. Wollney says her position was created because Getson had been in charge of both response and prevention, “but the university understood and saw the need to add resources on that education and outreach prevention aspect.”

While Pochiro still sees Wollney’s position as more focused on the It’s On Us campaign than on survivors, Wollney describes it as a polished campaign specifically adapted to the university, including a rephrasing of the national It’s On Us pledge to learn how to recognize consent versus sexual assault; intervene when another person could be harmed; and create an environment in which survivors are supported.

Getson notes that in recent years the university has also focused heavily on prevention and bystander training for incoming students—a See something? Say something! for sexual assault. Both she and Wollney cite student groups that include PAVES (People Against Violence and Sexual Assault) and MARS (Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault), as well as programs such as bystander training for new Greek students, athletic teams, and the University 101 class (which reaches about 80 percent of incoming students). Online sexual and interpersonal violence training is mandatory for all incoming students.

Julia Koenig, a Miami sophomore and co-president of F-WORD with Pochiro, recalls an hour-long online training session the summer before her freshman year with one section she describes as “this cartoony little thing” concerning consent and sexual assault prevention. There was also a brief video at an in-person student orientation. Referring to the training, Koenig notes, “it needs more than one day to sink in.”


I meet with Clara Madison in her Miami on-campus dorm lounge. (Her name is changed at her request.) She has typed up an account of her assault, and suggests it might be less awkward if I look through that first, before beginning our interview.

Madison leaves the room for a few minutes as I read her description. It is written in third-person, a dissociative trick to make the storytelling easier. She’s at a party, dancing. She drank too much. There’s a boy, a cute one she knows from class. They dance. They kiss. He leads her back to campus, everything’s spinning. He follows her into a private bathroom. He asks. She says no. She says no again…

He pushes her legs back and they’re on his shoulders. She whimpers into the palm of his hand in pain—the sound stopped before it’s even made. Soon she stops fighting, realizing she can’t do anything. She retreats into herself.

She disconnects from the situation. Only aware of 2 things: the embarrassment of seeing her shoes on his shoulders and the cool metal of his necklace brushing back and forth across her face.

In Madison’s retelling, she questions whether it was her fault for thinking he was cute. What if he didn’t mean to hurt her like that? What if no one ever taught him to know when to stop? What if he was just a boy on Halloween weekend trying to make the most of his first college experience?

It wasn’t until the next morning at breakfast, describing what happened to her friends—groggy, still piecing things together—when she panicked because she thought she saw him in the dining hall. (She didn’t.) After recounting the whole night, one friend asked, “Do you think you were assaulted?” They encouraged her to go to the hospital.

Two male officers with the Miami University Police Department (MUPD) spoke with Madison at McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital, and a female officer followed up with her a few days later. “She kept questioning me,” Madison recalls. “She would say things like, ‘Are you sure? Because I have sons, and I know I would want somebody to be sure before they made this kind of accusation.’ ”

“We go to great lengths to be victim-centered,” says MUPD Chief John McCandless, explaining the ways MUPD respects the amount of interaction survivors want to have with police or their level of interest in pursuing criminal charges. When I reference Madison’s experience with the female MUPD officer, McCandless explains: “We have an expectation that our officers treat everybody they contact with respect and dignity. In any criminal investigation, when we’re talking to a victim, there are questions that the victim might think are hard questions. And it’s hard, but what people have to remember is that these are questions that are going to be important to the prosecutor too. Sometimes we’re trying to get a sense of what the answer might be in a criminal case, because I think what must be incredibly hard for the victims is to have to recant this in a criminal trial, particularly when a defense attorney is doing everything they can do to represent their client.”

By the time the female MUPD officer followed up with Madison in the days after her hospital visit, she had decided not to pursue charges.

The anguish that can stem from telling one’s story is a significant deterrent, particularly when discrediting survivors is so common—She was so drunk… She wanted it… Look what she was wearing. Survivors who do report can often feel put on trial themselves. And then there are cases like the one detailed in the 2014 Rolling Stone article “A Rape On Campus,” which centered on a purported gang rape at the University of Virginia. The accuser proved to be an unreliable source and the magazine was found to have committed numerous errors in its own reporting. It resulted in an embarrassing retraction and multiple lawsuits against Rolling Stone. Because scrutiny is high on all sides, it can be simpler—or less daunting—for survivors to try to move on without the added burden of a contentious case, either on campus or in court.

Madison didn’t tell her parents about the experience, but the hospital sent home a bill for the pregnancy test. (According to Ohio Revised Code 2907.28 (B), hospitals should not bill patients for collection of evidence in sexual assault cases. However, adult survivors can be charged for pregnancy tests or emergency contraception.) Madison’s parents called her fuming, wanting to know why she had a pregnancy test at a hospital. “That’s not how I wanted my parents to find out,” says Madison. “They didn’t get that it was a rape kit. They just got the pregnancy test, and they were like, What are you doing?”

After hearing Madison’s account, her parents pushed her to file a campus report. Two weeks after first talking to the MUPD, she was ready to pursue a case on campus. In her version of events, she described being led into a side door of Armstrong, the campus building where the alleged assault took place. Madison says her assailant claimed they went in through the front door, which Madison believes was a lie meant to suggest he had nothing to hide. This he-said-she-said disagreement could have been cleared up with security film, but in the time since she made her initial report the footage had been deleted.

When survivors refuse to file a report with the MUPD, they are given standard paperwork to sign that states: We also want you to know that even if you decide you do not wish to pursue a criminal investigation you should not be afraid to change your mind! After time to reflect, victims often change their minds and decide to pursue criminal charges. Madison still wonders, if survivors “often” change their minds and later file reports, why wouldn’t campus police collect potential evidence before it is deleted? (According to McCandless, MUPD does make every attempt to gather evidence—e.g. clothing, bedding—because of this very concern.)

Prior to a campus hearing in December 2015, two months after the incident, Madison’s alleged perpetrator was put on probation by the school. After she’d filed a report, she claims he tried calling her and friending her on Facebook. This caused her significant anxiety. “I thought I saw him everywhere,” she says.

The perpetrator was ultimately found responsible for sexual misconduct by a trained three-person administrative hearing panel organized by Miami. It was not a criminal trial. “We only hold hearings. We don’t prosecute,” says Susan Vaughn, director of Miami’s Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution, which oversees such hearings. (The university does not comment on individual cases.) According to Madison, the student was suspended until fall of 2018, and the reason for his suspension will remain on his transcript. For now, he’s not allowed on campus. Madison is doubtful he’ll try to return, though he is free to attend another college in the meantime. Miami records dating from December 2015 note that Butler County Prosecutor Mike Hon stated there was not enough probable cause to file criminal charges against the suspect.

In contrast with her qualms regarding the university police force, Madison wrote me in an e-mail: “I didn’t have a bad experience with the school. I believe Miami does an excellent job handling these cases.” There is a line of separation between the university and its campus police force. “We don’t have any link with the police,” Vaughn clarifies, adding that her office neither brings in nor questions the police in campus hearings. Some students report issues directly to the Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution without consulting the MUPD, and some just go straight to the MUPD. “If a case is under investigation [by the university], [the police] may not even provide a report until they’ve decided what they’re going to do,” says Vaughn.

After waiting the requisite year-and-a-half following her own assault, Madison became one of roughly 40 Women Helping Women volunteer advocates who serve in Butler County; there are another 73 in Hamilton County. Some answer the 24-hour crisis hotline, others accompany survivors to the hospital or court.

Her mother tends to blame Madison’s friends for letting her leave the party with her attacker that night. Madison sighs. “I was an adult,” she says, noting that her friends weren’t exactly going to forbid her. “That’s part of hook-up culture.”

She also recognizes the links between the university’s efforts to address the current binge-drinking crisis and the safety measures it takes to try to prevent sexual assault. The messages just aren’t getting through. “People our age think we’re invincible,” says Madison. “We think: That couldn’t possibly happen to me.”


Universities have a clear impetus to reform sexual assault issues on campus—through training sessions on consent, bystander awareness, and re-education of risk behavior—thanks to pressure at the federal level. But an institution’s response to national standards can often be muddled through bureaucratic complacency, and can even undermine the very survivors those laws seek to protect.

In spring 2014, UC’s anonymous peer-to-peer counseling group for sexual assault survivors, RECLAIM, was temporarily reorganized. A source involved in the matter speculates that UC was under the impression the Dear Colleague letter barred unlicensed peer advocates from conducting confidential conversations. Some RECLAIM services shifted to the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services, but its 24-hour helpline was shut down. After an April 2014 clarification from the White House stating survivors could speak to on-campus volunteer advocates in confidence, RECLAIM restarted with limited confidentiality—until a couple of weeks before fall semester 2015, when the university cancelled RECLAIM’s upcoming advocate training. In August 2015, a group of about a dozen students, some with SURVIVOR written on their shirts and all with red tape labeled ADMIN covering their mouths, met with Debra Merchant, vice president for student affairs, and Nicole Mayo, UC’s director of leadership and engagement. The students were informed the program would cease to exist from that point forward (and preserved the exchange on video). In response, UC’s Women’s Center organized a wake of sorts to bid farewell to the program. But during the festivities—and without prior notice—the university’s official Twitter account tweeted: “Setting the record straight: RECLAIM will continue operating as is.”

When survivors are immediately asked What did you do to make this happen? or Well, were you drunk? “That takes them down a whole other path,” adds Shrimplin. “That’s rape culture.”

Or not. RECLAIM never reopened. After its disappearance from campus, Kristin Shrimplin from Women Helping Women, which had partnered with RECLAIM, wrote an op-ed in The Cincinnati Enquirer calling the service “an integral element of students’ rights to safety and to receiving an education.” That was nearly two years ago. Merchant, in a phone interview and via e-mail, stated UC was working to revamp its peer advocacy program and find ways to better include the LGBT community and “voices of color,” while trying to remain in compliance with state law and follow White House guidance. “We are working closely with Women Helping Women to get their input and their collaboration on a peer advocacy program for the future,” Merchant says. Details are scant, however; at press time, no formal launch date had been announced.

RECLAIM was one program—more than a decade old and with national accolades—but just one program. The outsized response reflected a sense of loss: It provided a safe space for vulnerable survivors. But the yo-yo, yes-no nature of its closure also typified the survivor experience, and communicated a deprioritization of sexual assault programs. Cunningham, whose alleged assault took place after RECLAIM was disbanded, had no organized or university-supported structure available to her for peer support. She and others have begun to create a version of that for themselves through Students for Survivors and similar initiatives, though it’s an open question as to whether they should have to.

“I do not know how survivors do it,” says Amy Howton, the former interim director of UC’s Women’s Center who resigned after RECLAIM’s closure. “To remain in that same environment, when that’s a big part of your trauma, and then trying to navigate it while you’re experiencing that trauma, and then on top of that, trying to fight this fight—” she breaks off. Howton notes how privileged she feels to have worked with survivors who somehow find the strength to mount these battles even while trying to heal. “These are the students we should be looking to. There should be pride in and a lifting up of students who can do that,” she says. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that.”

In March 2016, Women Helping Women signed a memorandum of understanding with Miami University that allows the nonprofit to appoint a full-time sexual assault on-campus advocate, offer a 24-hour rape crisis line to students and employees, and assist the university in developing prevention programs. Last August, after coming under Title IX investigation earlier in the year, UC signed a similar agreement with the organization, which resulted in two sexual assault advocates being installed on the Clifton campus. Cunningham, while discussing the resource at Rohs Street Café, describes the UC advocates as “amazing,” though Roxanne van Dams points out that these advocates have 9-to-5 weekday office hours, and the addition of a peer support system could fill in some gaps.

Women Helping Women’s 24-hour crisis line assists with this as well, in large part by simply providing a person whom a survivor can call who will tell them I believe you. It’s not your fault. That response alone, says Shrimplin, “significantly changes the trajectory of a survivor’s path to coping and healing.” When survivors are immediately asked What did you do to make this happen? or Well, were you drunk? “that takes them down a whole other path,” adds Shrimplin. “That’s rape culture.”

Shrimplin notes that sexual violence remains the most underreported crime in our country, and cites figures from the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network affirming that even among the alarmingly small segment of victims who do report an assault, only 5.7 percent result in arrest. Felony convictions number less than one percent.

“This is a public health epidemic that we’re not addressing on the front end, then saying once it happens to you, report it to the criminal justice system,” says Shrimplin. “That system is broken for survivors.”


There are some signs of improvement. National dialogue and general awareness of sexual assault has increased in recent years. Shrimplin notes that from 2014 to 2015, Women Helping Women saw a 150 percent increase in the number of survivors requesting hospital accompaniment. Kate Lawson, the Title IX Coordinator at Xavier University, says that on-campus reporting of acquaintance rape doubled at the school during the 2015–2016 academic year compared to the year prior; she believes this is not because assaults have doubled, but rather because deficiencies and barriers to the reporting process have been removed.

For its part, the City of Cincinnati, through It’s On Us, launched a taskforce to reduce gender-based violence. City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld—who initiated the local taskforce and attended a White House summit on preventing sexual assault on campus in the waning days of the Obama administration—describes being drawn to the issue by staffer Colleen Reynolds, a former student body president at XU. The effort is hoping to yield citywide awareness of the issue, a centralized portal for survivor services, best-practice training at local bars, and policy reform.

Still, there’s an extent to which the culture surrounding sexual assault, specifically on college campuses, appears beyond repair. One Miami survivor was quoted in the record of her assault, explaining why she didn’t want to press charges: “I don’t want to fuck up his life just because of one mistake.”

Cunningham, in her junior year at UC, pursued criminal charges after her assault, but now feels her investigator blamed her for the incident and flubbed the case. Her rape kit wasn’t tested until two months after a grand jury indictment was brought against her defendant in Hamilton County Municipal Court.** The sexual assault charge was ultimately dropped, and the defendant pleaded no contest to theft and was charged with stealing her iPad and laptop, for which he was required to make restitution.

“Basically, the court valued my property more than my body,” she says. “I get a check every month. I still haven’t gotten the full total. It’s like another trigger.” Cunningham’s matter-of-fact tone halts. Van Dams reaches for her hand as she gathers herself.

It’s unclear if the Title IX investigation prompted by Cunningham will offer her much closure, either, whenever it is eventually settled. Nationally, 62 cases have been resolved thus far—with 329 still open at 235 different institutions—and it’s too early to tell how the current Department of Education, under the Trump administration, will investigate or uphold Title IX compliance.

In other words, the findings from the three open UC and Miami investigations could bring significant changes, or they could have a minimal impact on the insidious culture of sexual assault: The young (mostly) men with misguided views of consent. The young (mostly) women conditioned to hide their assaults or left to band together with friends and fellow survivors without university support. The colleges with vague guidelines and consequences, offering perfunctory warnings at orientation and half-measures of organized support. And the repeated cycle of pain and anguish.

For every survivor emboldened to speak out, for every Clara Madison willing to become an advocate, there are others suppressing a difficult secret. Some are afraid to come forward or formalize reports. Some are sitting by themselves in the corner of a coffee shop, a coloring book the best remedy for their pain.


*Correction: The original version of this article mistakenly credited this quote to Cunningham. It was spoken by van Dams.

**Update: The original version of this article has been updated due to new evidence confirming the completed date of Cunningham’s rape kit.

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