We need to stop treating plagiarism as a more serious act than rape. When institutions are so willing to make excuses for rapists so they can remain matriculated, but do not think twice about expelling someone for cheating even if is just “one person’s word against another” we have colleges that have created yet another line of attack against reproductive justice.
Gawker wrote a story uncovering a rape complaint filed against Republican California gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman’s son Griffith Rutherford Harsh V, who ended up graduating three years after the school’s investigation deemed that there was not enough “evidence” to hold Harsh accountable. The story of the assault was like many that happen to 25% of college-aged women – except in this case the victim woke up with a black eye and bruises on her face. Many survivors of campus sexual assault don’t even have any telltale physical injuries in the aftermath; most just have to deal with the emotional scars of a confusing situation and a school that fails to take it seriously.
Maureen O’Connor highlights some very interesting facts about Griffith Harsh that are sadly very relevant to the likelihood of justice for a rape survivor. The year that Harsh applied to Princeton, Meg Whitman announced a $30 million donation to build a new residence hall which was named after her. The summer after his sophomore year (the time of the incident) the residence’s construction was still not finished. Even without the huge donation on the table, Harsh still had the resources of a mother who is a billionaire, which is a fact that the rape victim took seriously. She avoided going to the local authorities or to the local hospital to file a report or get an evidence collection kit done. Even though turning to Princeton to handle this egregious violation of her body enabled the situation to be addressed more quietly, she still had to deal with the inherent unequal access to justice that occurs when one is assaulted by someone who has a lot more power.
When looking at Harsh’s final statement to the Princeton disciplinary committee the victim-blaming and lack of knowledge that he is responsible for avoiding sex when the other party not capable of giving consent is glaring. Why is it when one unknowingly cites something incorrectly they’re still punished for plagiarism or when we’re caught breaking a law we didn’t know existed we can still be arrested? His statement admits there was sexual relations and any claims that he could not tell that she wasn’t able to consent does not do enough to change the fact that someone woke up violated.
Reproductive justice is also about people being properly educated. It seems like either Princeton’s Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline is not properly educated about what sexual assault is, or they were more conscious about keeping the possibilities of hefty donations after $30 million residence hall open. Was the rape survivor clearly taught the options about the aftermath of sexual assault (i.e. she could have gotten a ‘rape kit’ done for the student judicial process)? Was Griff Harsh properly educated that it isn’t a person’s fault if they can’t remember being sexually assaulted?
While many may not realize that sexual assault is intrinsically tied to reproductive justice, this case shows how economic status, sexual health education, and institutional bureaucracy all can affect access to it. We need to look closely at why we let so many unrelated factors (so what if Harsh’s mom is a billionaire? Who cares if the victim’s friends say she didn’t seem drunk earlier that night?) make us so hesitant to hold those who violate the rights of others accountable for their actions.