Brown University Student Seeks Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors On Campus

The sun seemed to shine a little brighter the Tuesday morning that Brown University student, Lena Sclove, stood in front of a group of 50 or more students, staff, and Providence residents to talk about the traumatic event that has affected her life for the last eight months. Standing in front of the University’s Van Wickle Gates, Sclove addressed the crowd of supporters. “It’s sort of bittersweet,” Sclove began with a small smile on her face. “I haven’t seen a lot of you and this campus has come to mean a lot of things to me. And it’s become a very scary place for me, and that’s what I’m here to talk about.”

On August 2nd, 2013, a fellow Brown University student strangled and raped Lena Sclove. The two students, who were at one point good friends, had previously hooked up but had decided to end the relationship prior to the incident in question. However, on August 2nd, after a party, the male student assaulted Sclove even though she reports saying “no” at least seven times. Within two weeks of the attack, Sclove reported the rape to the Brown Office of Student Life under the assumption that the process would bring her some sense of justice. On the contrary, Sclove was subject to a long and difficult series of meetings with the university’s board of conduct, a judicial process that took three entire months — all while the rapist attended classes and lived on the same campus as Sclove. She remembers being forced to see her attacker in the university’s campus center, in libraries and in dining halls while attempting to find some sense of comfort and justice from the school’s administration.

Sclove’s official hearing took place on October 11th, 2013, before a student conduct board panel composed of a student, a dean and a professor over two months after the rape. A week after the October 11th hearing, the board notified Sclove that they found her rapist guilty of the following four charges: (1) actions that result in or can be reasonably expected to result in physical harm to a person or persons; (2) sexual misconduct that involves nonconsensual physical contact of a sexual nature; (3) sexual misconduct that includes one or more of the following: penetration, violent physical force, or injury; (4) illegal possession or use of drugs and/or alcohol and/or drug paraphernalia. Interestingly, the board sentenced Sclove’s attacker to a suspension of two years but Brown’s Senior Associate Dean of Student Life, J. Allen Ward, reduced the sentence to a one-year suspension. In spite of this ruling, Sclove was told that the rapist would return to campus in the fall of 2014, even though he had been allowed to remain on campus for the entirety of the trial and his “year suspension” in reality would only amount to one semester and a few weeks away from the University.

Lena forwarded the official documents sent to her in response to her student conduct board hearing

Lena forwarded the official documents sent to her in response to her student conduct board hearing

Sclove immediately appealed the decision (the rapist did not) because the suspension would mean that the attacker returned to school while Sclove still had two more years to complete as a student, and that she would not feel safe attending classes knowing that the man who raped her was still allowed on campus. Vice President Margaret Klawunn, who receives student appeals, denied Sclove’s request. The Brown administration defended its decisions and actions based on “precedent” of past sanctions.

Along with the University’s lack of empathy, Sclove suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and migraines towards the end of the Fall 2013 semester that lasted for two weeks. Furthermore, just before Christmas, she woke up with a lump on her spine — a manifestation of a cervical injury sustained from the rapist strangling her — and Sclove was unable to walk for two months. Because of the spinal injury, Sclove had to go on medical leave, and lost the one semester of peace she would have had on campus before the rapist returned. Now Sclove is two semesters behind in her academic career because the arduous process of the board hearings limited her to a half-course load and because Sclove’s medical injuries prevent her from returning to school at all until the fall. Sclove asserted that even with her family to support her financially and emotionally through the hearings, the entire procedure was incredibly difficult and that Brown’s system of dealing with assault privileges students who have the time and energy to pause their academics and jobs in order to receive even a little justice for their suffering. Many students don’t have the option to demand that the university punish their sexual assailants or rapists.

Sclove’s sexual assault is far from the first or only instance of sexual misconduct, harassment, or rape at Brown University. In 1990, the University captured national attention when media sources found out that students listed the names of men who allegedly sexually assaulted them on bathroom stalls. Up to 30 men’s names were listed in the stalls of the Rockefeller Library women’s bathrooms, and the New York Times reported that even when janitors cleaned the names off of the walls, students re-wrote the lists on other bathrooms across the campus. Six years later, Adam Lack (who was class of 1997 but graduated years later) was accused of raping a fellow student who claimed she was too drunk to remember what happened the night of the incident and could not have consented. In 2010, Will McCormick III made a private settlement where he agreed to leave Brown University as long as the woman that accused him of rape did not file charges. While the last two cases are some of the most famous Brown University sexual assaults — mostly because the accused rapists sued the school, claiming that the allegations were false — there are undoubtedly many more cases reported and unreported.

Sclove’s courageous push to bring her attack to the spotlight in order to call attention to the way her university mishandles sexual assault cases is indicative of a greater crisis. Universities and colleges across the United States have a long history of brushing sexual violence under the rug or punishing rapists with a slap on the wrist. Students have always voiced their concerns about this trend in some way or another, but recently, university and college students have coalesced to hold their institutions accountable. Earlier this month, a group of 23 students working under the name “Our Stories CU” decided to file Title IX, Title II, and Clery complaints against Columbia University for the institution’s inadequate response to and treatment of sexual assault on the Ivy League campus. At Harvard, on April 3rd, two students confirmed that they had filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against the University, on the grounds that the institution’s sexual assault policies violate Title IX. (Title IX is a law passed in 1972 that establishes gender equity for every federally funded educational program.)

In the government, prominent politicians like senators Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand have dedicated efforts to challenging the military and universities to dealing with sexual assault with more care towards survivors and with less leniency towards the perpetrators of sexual violence. Sen. McCaskill clarified how sexual assault manifests similarly in the military and in universities:

“Reporting a sexual assault is immensely difficult no matter where it occurs, because it is the most personally painful and private moment of a victim’s life, but it is often exacerbated in these closed environments — where it may be difficult to come forward and report, because victims often feel they are under a microscope, may often know their attacker, and may have difficulty navigating the complexities on how to report these crimes.”

It is true that in the case of universities and colleges, the administrations must negotiate the fact that both the attacker and the survivor are probably affiliated with the institution and that the institution is then liable for both sides of the situation. However, these institutions often choose to defend the perpetrator of the crime instead of the person attacked. We live in a society that thrives because of systemic misogyny and endorses rape culture legally (as seen through Brown University’s careless treatment of horrific cases of sexual violence), socially (experienced any time someone responds to a rape accusation by suggesting that the survivor “was asking for it”), and in the media (every time a TV show or movie glorifies a man having his way with a partner with absolutely no consent).

At the end of Lena Sclove’s press conference, she reminded any survivors of sexual assault listening to her that they did not do anything wrong. Sexual assault survivors never deserve to be attacked, violated and humiliated by another human being. Universities that choose to protect rapists and sexual assaulters because it’s too “hard” to publicly condemn the spiritual, emotional, and phyical trauma that is rape institutionalize the misogyny and sexual violence endemic in our society and continually wrong their students.

To sign a petition to seek Justice for Lena Sclove and sexual assault survivors everywhere, click here.

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Helen McDonald is a 20-something Black lesbian feminist living off of pizza, social justice and a lil snark. By day, she's a community educator, teaching young people about healthy relationships. She also discusses the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality on her personal blog and is a contributing writer at

Helen has written 40 articles for us.


  1. I’m not sure how things work in the US, but why choose to file this kind of complaint with the university’s board and not with the police? (This is a genuine question, not a rhetorical one, I’m not in any way suggesting that choosing to complain to the school’s board might in any way be a stupid move; I’m just unable to come up with potential reasons by myself, but I’m still convinced those reasons exist.) Also, don’t the people sitting on boards of this kind have a duty to report that type of criminal offence to the police, once someone has come to them with such a terrible story?

    • I don’t know how it works in every situation, but the universities I know have a campus police department. When a crime takes place involving a university student/students or on the university campus, the university PD is responsible for it. They will then forward cases to the necessary administrative bodies of the university.

      Basically, students are told they have this specific law enforcement unit for them, and are given the impression that they have advocates on campus if they are victims of any crime. Which, obviously, isn’t always the case.

      • Can you not then go to the police outside of the institution? Even if there is no punishment that can truly constitute justice, there should be legal repercussions for any perpetrator of violence.

    • This is a super common question, and a thing that I think is commonly misunderstood. The TL;DR answer is, the police aren’t always better.

      First of all, the consequences are super different (jail time versus suspension or expulsion) and some survivors don’t want their attacker locked up, they just want to be able to attend school safely and move on with their lives. Secondly, because the consequences are lower (government taking away rights versus a private institution turning you away for breaking their rules) there can be a lower burden of proof – at most universities it’s a “preponderance of the evidence” standard (aka, more likely than not that it happened), whereas in criminal cases you have to prove things beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s just harder, especially if there are often no witnesses to the crime. If you look up the conviction rates, they are abysmal. Also, universities can have more expansive definitions of what’s not okay, whereas the law defines things really narrowly (like only counting verbal nos, and not non-verbal communication, for example). So some cases, like my own, are pursuable at the university level but wouldn’t really stand any chance criminally.

      And yes, I know my university at least is required to notify the police of things, but not necessarily in great detail, and survivors can’t be forced to press charges. (Though there are some exceptions, like mandatory arrest laws in domestic violence cases).

      This is a super general overview and there’s a lot more that can be said about it but hopefully it’s helpful!

      • Doesn’t this situation of one set of laws for most of the country, and another set of laws for on university campus’ mean that a rapist is more likely commit crime on a campus since the consequences are lower?

        And when they leave uni, they’ve got a clean record. They could just say they dropped out, and then go on to become a teacher or something?

        (A lot of ifs I know, and also I do understand that people who commit sexual violoence are not one homogenous group without any other motivations, but you get my point hopefully.)

        It just seems entirely weird from a foreign perspective that people can be openly talking about violence and there not be criminal cases even considered.

        • Orange, U.S. law applies everywhere in the country, so it’s not like perpetrating sexual violence at universities is some kind of loophole. They can get reported to the police and tried in a criminal trial no matter where they are. It’s just that in addition, universities have their own disciplinary processes for breaking university policy.

          And R, that sucks, and illustrates how shitty both options can be. It highlights another issue with criminal reporting: even if a survivor makes a report, prosecutors decide whether or not to bring a case forward, so a trial isn’t guaranteed.

      • Thanks, Hannah (and Ellyse). Yes, your explanations helped me understand a lot more about the differences between the two options and why it can be easier and/or more effective to complain to the university’s board (and by “easier”, I don’t mean the frequently understood meaning of “easier for a lazy person or a coward”, at all!)

        Orange, though, mentioned the exact worries I had about that twofold system… But I also know how things often are intertwined and really complicated. Almost never is there a perfect solution, unfortunately. Anyway, thanks again for taking the time to explain the issue. :-)

        • Another POV: I go to a school that definitely handles rape and sexual assault cases poorly, but you are guaranteed a case investigation/judiciary board action if you report. The town our campus is in has a police department that has not prosecuted anyone for domestic or sexual violence in 20 years. Often, the outcomes of the J Board trials are really disappointing (rapist has to live off campus but still allowed to be on campus, take class, go to parties, be at the campus owned music venue/bar, etc. OR former student rapists who still hang around on campus “banned” from dorms & campus but this is NEVER enforced) but at least there IS an outcome, rather than reporting to the police and having literally no action taken in response.

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