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Sofie Karasek Headshot

A+ In Rape Culture: Inside Forbes' Top 25 Public Colleges

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Another year, another class of high school seniors spending their fall semesters applying to colleges across the country. Two years ago, I was one of them, drinking every drop of caffeine and cranking out a stack of essays with one expectation: get into the best college I can, the rest will fall into place.

I anticipated a more demanding course load at the University of California, Berkeley. But I never expected to be a victim of sexual assault during my freshman year there. Even more shocking was the University's failure to inform me that they were not going to investigate my case formally, despite multiple reports of assaults by the same assailant.

This past May, myself and seven other survivors filed a federal Clery complaint with the Department of Education against UC Berkeley for mishandling our cases and denying students a safe environment to seek our postsecondary educations.

My story in itself is a unique experience, but sexual assault and subsequent betrayal by university administrators is devastatingly common for students nationwide, regardless of the school's reputation.

Corrupted by the flow of increasingly steep tuitions and bragging rights to the world's best and brightest students, there is little incentive for individual schools to address sexual assault if other universities appear immune to sexual violence. Maintaining an impeccable public reputation is perceived to be of greater importance than confronting painful and damaging problems.

Nonetheless, universities still have the legal responsibility to protect their students under Title IX, the amendment to the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender.

Students across the country are learning about these rights and speaking out, increasing the volume on a whisper that has been audible to few but felt by many. Let's take a trip down this year's Forbes "Top 25 Best Public Colleges" list and unearth some of these stories:

  • West Point, the military academy at the top of the Forbes list, is no stranger to sexual violence. In March, it was revealed a sergeant allegedly filmed 12 female cadets in the barracks shower. Two individuals from the rugby team that was sanctioned for sending derogatory emails about female cadets are now being investigated for more serious charges. Additionally, the most recent study conducted by the Department of Defense found that 52 percent of women cadets surveyed report experiencing "unwanted sexual attention."
  • At UC Berkeley, eight survivors of rape and sexual assault -- including myself -- filed a federal Clery complaint against the school with the Department of Education. Recently the California state legislature unanimously voted to audit UC Berkeley's sexual assault policies and reporting procedures.
  • Three men from the Naval Academy were charged with rape in June, against a woman midshipman who was disciplined for drinking on the night of her assault while her alleged assailants went unpunished for over a year.
  • Students from the University of Virginia filed a Title IX complaint against the institution in 2010, the same year that a complaint was filed against Harvard Law School by the same attorney.
  • Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, two students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, filed federal Clery and Title IX complaints against the school earlier this year and have now connected activists across the country to the IX Network, a group of students connecting nationally to fight against sexual assault on their college campuses. In addition to these two complaints, UNC is also being investigated for retaliating against a student, claiming that she violated the honor code for making the campus environment too intimidating for her alleged rapist.
These universities are some of the most prestigious (and expensive) public institutions in the country, but hidden behind the rankings on this list is a dark secret, a scandal buried by decades of shaming and neglect of victims by college administrators.

One in four women are sexually assaulted during their college years, which means that it's more likely for a student to be sexually assaulted by going to college than not attending at all. We are paying a higher price for our educations than just the balance in our savings accounts.

Campus sexual violence is a disease that plagues our universities, but students are sending a message that is spreading powerfully from school to school, coast to coast:

We will no longer pay the steep price of silence.