Notre Dame: Another Reason to Reauthorize VAWA

December 10, 2012

On January 7, the University of Notre Dame football team will compete to win a U.S. national title. And playing on the team, to the cheers of millions of people, will be two men who, in separate incidents, allegedly raped and sexually assaulted two college women.

Notre Dame vs Syracuse photo courtesy of ctaloi on Flickr Creative Commons

That makes me really mad.

I found out this week that one of the two women committed suicide 10 days after reporting the assault — and receiving a shocking lack of help from campus police and administrators. It wasn’t until the media drew attention to the assault that the campus finally held a disciplinary hearing for one of the accused players six months after the woman’s death. He was found “not responsible” and never sat out a single game. The second player was never charged because the woman he assaulted knew what had happened to the first woman and decided  not to report the crime.

Notre Dame is not the only campus with a sexual assault problem, but attacks don’t make national news every time they occur. Still, many campuses have made headlines for incidents of assault in the past few months, including Amherst College, the University of Montana, and Boston University.

These stories underscore alarming statistics; for instance, 19 percent of college women experience completed or attempted sexual assault or rape. Most perpetrators on campus get away with their crimes, in part because reporting is so low. So many of the few people who do speak out face a lack of response, victim-blaming, or retaliation.

Before they even reported the attacks by Notre Dame football players, the young women allegedly faced threats of retaliation from the friends and teammates of the two men.

As an advocate working to end campus sexual assault, I am disheartened to hear these stories, not only because I know that yet another person has been needlessly traumatized but also because cases like these show how the “right” answer — telling someone to report the crime — may not always be the safest option for the victim or the best way to ensure justice is served.

This is one reason why I feel so strongly about the passage of the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act.

The SaVE Act is a provision included in the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act,  which Congress has yet to reauthorize. The SaVE Act would require schools to do more about sexual violence, including creating plans to prevent this violence and educating victims about their rights and resources.

This act is essential since most campuses need to do much more to prevent sexual assault; they need to penalize perpetrators, and they need to do more to help survivors.

If you’re mad like I am, here are three ways to channel your anger:

  1. Urge your representatives to reauthorize VAWA including campus safety provisions from the Campus SaVE Act.
  2. If you know someone on a college or university campus or are on a campus yourself, download and share AAUW’s Campus Sexual Assault Program in a Box. It’s full of useful information about resources like prevention programs and awareness campaigns for campuses.
  3. Share and download a free iPhone and Android app called Circle of 6, which allows friends to help each other out of potentially unsafe situations before they escalate into violence.
Holly Kearl By:   |   December 10, 2012


  1. Caroline Pickens says:

    The Notre Dame incidents (but they certainly weren’t “incidental”) was the subject of a lengthy article in the Washington Post by a Notre Dame grad titled “Why I Won’t Be Rooting for Notre Dame.” American Fellow Lauren Germain, now teaching at Syracuse University, did her dissertation work on this subject. She found that about half of women students who are sexually assaulted don’t even report it because they know what victims have gone through, they know the perpetrator won’t be disciplined, or they wonder if they did anything to cause the attack. Of the half that are reported, most of those don’t end up with the male charged and/or disciplined. Colleges don’t want the publicity, either, so they sweep it under the rug. Reauthorizing VAWA with the Campus SAVE Act portions is critical. We owe to it these victims.
    –Caroline Pickens, AAUW of Virginia

  2. […] abuse through talking about healthy sexuality. Given the allegations at places like Penn State; Notre Dame; Steubenville, Ohio; and Delhi, India, it’s clear there is a need for more prevention […]

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