Sex, Cops and the University

In response to Professor David Rubin’s guest column, “Police, not colleges, should investigate sex assaults on campus,” today on [].

Dear Professor Rubin,

I appreciate your column and largely agree with it, however, I think that turning the problem of sexual assault over to the police is based on an idealized version of who police are and how they act.

The facts are dismal:

First, cops don’t have college degrees, therefore, putting them in a dorm or fraternity puts them at a disadvantage. Cops are routinely on the defensive and this would make them more so. Their response falls to putting a hand on their nightstick, speaking louder and more belligerently, and informing the person being questioned that he will submit. The basic problem is that people with lesser intelligence would be given power over people with greater intelligence, which is a recipe for disaster.

Second, police do not make a timely response to a complaint. Often a complainant has to wait hours for the police to show up.

Third, my decades of experience with the Syracuse Police Department have taught me that the standard police response is to disparage the complaint and the complainant. They start by telling you why it probably is not a crime, and why they can’t do anything about it. The police attitude is that whatever happened to the complainant—mugging, assault without significant visible injury, harassment—isn’t really important enough to warrant their attention. They have more important things to do and those things usually involve drugs and bloody violence.

Fourth, once you get a cop to take a complaint, then it gets lost in a very large system and it competes with hundreds, if not thousands, of other complaints. There is little justice and no speed.

Syracuse University is its own community, with its own unique characteristics—nowhere else in the city are hundreds of un-related young people sharing facilities and sleeping next-door to each other. It is better for the university to upgrade its response system than to turn it over to the police. I can assure you, the citizens of the City of Syracuse would never have approved coed dorms.

The university has created an ultra-permissive environment for young people who often lack the self-discipline to deal with it. There is substantial doubt about what their parents have taught them, and in too many cases the students either have not internalized what they’ve been taught, or have not yet developed their own ethical rules.

Syracuse University is an atypical sub-community. If you want to let the City of Syracuse order the social circumstances of the university, then you might reasonably call the cops when sexual assault occurs on campus. Other than that, I would suggest that the university do what it does best—research the underlying causes and conditions that result in sexual assault, then change those things. Maybe you should learn what the police do and teach it to your Security Department. Let the university’s security people tailor criminal procedures to fit the university community.

Just because the university might have to spend more money or risk losing federal funding does not justify turning the university’s sexual problems over to cops with guns and nightsticks. The protests against the Vietnam War taught us that police and university students are mutually antagonistic. Since then, we have dealt with that problem by developing better boundaries and more clearly defined lines of responsibility.

The university has chosen to grow in ways that are not characteristic of the city. Now the university must accept the responsibility for the consequences.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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