Just a Reminder That Rape is Punishable by Jail Time

By Alessandria Schumacher

I have been thinking a lot about sexual assault lately – and I’m sure I’m not the only one – given the recent John Doe case. Within the past week, the case has gotten even more attention: comments on The Campus editorial online, an article by a Brooklyn College professor called “Weaponizing Title IX at Middlebury” and GO/DOE.

I have realized in thinking about the case that my natural reaction is to imagine myself in the place of the victim and to empathize with her – the reaction that many college students probably take, at least publicly.  Lately, however, I’ve found myself imagining what it would be like to be the accused.

As I have been thinking about the case from John’s perspective, I keep imagining: “What would it be like to have my whole college career at stake?”  Three years of hard work, time spent at this place, friendships, my life, a huge aspect of my identity, something I take pride in – all ended in an instant.

And what to show for it?  The accusation of a crime, three ‘wasted’ years, maybe a few friends I’ll keep in touch with and my high school diploma as my highest form of education.  That sounds absolutely horrible and life-changing to me – the idea that I’ve majorly derailed my future, let down my family, wasted $180,000 of tuition and I’ve made a lot of enemies. In this hypothetical situation, perhaps I’m guilty, and I deserved it. Perhaps I’m innocent and no one will ever believe me. Taking the step to expel someone is, in fact, a really big deal and will inevitably cause “irreparable harm.”  But I kept thinking.

Back up one month. It is late August, I’m home for a few weeks in Northampton, Massachusetts, just a 30 minute drive from UMass Amherst.  Most days when I was home, I’d find the local newspaper on the kitchen table.  One story that never seemed to go away was the trial of four men accused of raping a woman at UMass back in the fall of 2012, my senior year of high school.  The story was all over the news then, but over the past several months, the individual trials and sentencings of the four men have been on-going and frankly hard to miss.

At this point, Emmanuel T. Bile Jr., Justin A. King and Adam T. Liccardi – all 21 – have been convicted, Bile and King have been sentenced, Liccardi will be sentenced on October 6 and Caleb Womack age 20 – who still pleads innocent – will go on trial this month. The sentences: eight to ten years in prison for Bile and eight to twelve years in prison for King.  Now that is life-changing.

But that’s what our court system has decided.  We could go on all day about particular similarities and differences between the UMass Rape Case and John Doe, but that is irrelevant to my point.  In short, outside this world of judicial systems and community standards, 18-year-olds who commit rape can be sent to jail. John Doe – regardless of innocence or guilt – will never have the chance to see the inside of a jail cell, unless the actual substance of this case is ever taken to the real courts. Bile, King, and possibly the others will spend the next decade in jail without ever having started college, with their real names making it all the way to the Huffington Post and the Boston Globe, and probably no hope of an $85,000 entry job, even before the conviction.

So what sentence is too much for rape? Perhaps a decade in prison is unnecessarily harsh for college-aged people who have committed such a crime. Perhaps it’s ridiculously lenient that expulsion is all that a convicted rapist gets when a rape is “prosecuted” within the walls of a private institution. Obviously, a college cannot sentence a student to jail time. But perhaps the question here is: why are such serious crimes like rape sometimes “prosecuted” only internally to the college?

I don’t know the answers, and I don’t know what’s right in John Doe’s case, in the UMass Rape Case or how colleges should treat sexual assault at large. But I do know that when you look outside the world of colleges, rape is a crime that is punishable by jail time. And that is a pretty big deal.