The Daily Show Highlights Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Jon Stewart

The disadvantages that women face in male-centric 21st century American society are unquestionable. While job opportunities have slowly opened, gender roles have evolved, and the wage gap has steadily closed, females still find themselves disproportionately in poverty (over 30 percent of single moms live in poverty versus just 16.4 percent of single dads), the target of harsh and often unconstitutional invasions of privacy and health care rights, and victims of sexual assault.

To make matters worse, recalcitrant institutions — such as the United States military — actively ignored reports of sexual assault for years. Just last year there were 5,061 officially reported sexual assaults in the military. An anonymous survey from 2012 shows a much worse picture: over 26,000 reported sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact but most did not report it to superiors. While Congress has passed legislation that would prevent commanders from overturning sexual assault convictions, the problem still persists in a culturally epidemic way.

The Daily Show highlighted a new source of trouble for female sexual assault victims: universities. Sexual assault on college campuses is nothing new, but the media attention scrutinizing the response of administrators definitely is a new development. While there are currently sixty-three universities nationwide facing federal probes into their handling of sexual assault cases, The Daily Show focused a segment on a case from James Madison University in Virginia.

Sarah Butters, a former JMU student, complained of sexual assault and harassment to the university in 2013. Drinking with three men whom she considered friends, Butters was recorded topless and being groped. The men in the video, Huffington Post purports, attempted to pull off her bathing suit and laugh as she struggles. “This isn’t okay, this isn’t a good idea,” she reportedly said. The incident occurred in Florida during spring break.

The men involved in the incident circulated the video online. Butters complained to the school, filing an official complaint and screenshots of text messages with other students who said that they had seen the video with the Office of Judicial Affairs in January 2014. James Madison University found the students guilty of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Their punishment: expulsion after graduation. The students involved would be allowed to remain on campus through graduation.

This is where The Daily Show picked up on the controversy. Jon Stewart mocked the punishment, saying “Wait a minute, expelled upon graduation? Isn’t that ‘graduation’?”

Daily Show correspondents Jessica Williams and Jordan Klepper then have a skit where Jordan discuss tips for men to have fun in college, while Jessica offers sage advice to females for avoiding rape.

The Daily Show has done a fantastic job bringing attention to stories that are otherwise ignored in the mainstream media. Jon Stewart covered the shameful Veterans Affairs backlog as far back as the Bush administration and has done recurring segments on the department’s foot-dragging for years.

As for Butters, she is no longer a student at JMU. Throughout the entire process Butters’ grades had slipped, causing her to lose financial aid. She finally decided to withdraw from the university completely, but not before being scarred and undermined by an institution that she thought that she could trust.

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