New sexual abuse code stresses confidentiality

by Matthew Kwiecinski And Cory Weinberg

Sexual Harassment Policy

  • A sexual assault must be reported within 180 days to qualify for a judicial hearing
  • Mediation between the victim and offender is not an option
  • Both parties receive the judicial outcome notification and have the option to appeal
  • A victim can remain confidential for the entire hearing process
  • Sexual violence is now defined in the policy

A sexual harassment and assault policy approved Friday gives accusers the protection of confidentiality, but limits the time frame within which alleged victims can bring forward a case to 180 days.

The 21-page document, approved Friday by the Faculty Senate, allows alleged victims to remain anonymous and explicitly forbids victims and offenders from mediating sexual abuses. An alleged victim can bring a case forward after the 180-day mark with "good cause," according to the policy.

Chair of the Faculty Senate’s executive committee Michael Castleberry said the policy modernized the University’s case procedures to provide more “emotional protection” for alleged victims. The previous policy, last amended in 2005, forced complainants to disclose their identities at the formal hearing stage.

“The whole idea that a woman who has been sexually assaulted has to go in and confront the accuser hurts the healing process. The University’s code has to reflect those kinds of changes,” Castleberry said.

Deputy Title IX Coordinator Tara Pereira, who helped craft the policy over the last year, said she hopes more victims will report sexual abuses with the added emphasis on privacy.

Pereira said victims might be more comfortable coming forward if they did not fear retaliation or feel pressured to release information, though she said the anonymity could hinder the University’s ability to proceed with a hearing.

“It’s really hard to be victim survivor and go into a process where you are not in power,” Pereira said. In cases where underage drinking is involved, she added, a victim is “not likely” to face alcohol violation charges if a sexual harassment occurs – a factor she hopes will increase reports.

Three female students reported four sexual abuses on or near campus in the first two weeks of the semester. All of the situations involved alcohol.

Department of Education data shows that nearly 20 percent of women who attend college are victims of attempted or actual sexual assaults. About 95 percent of campus rapes go unreported.

The total number of reported on-campus sex offenses reached 12 cases in 2010, the most recently available yearlong University Police Department statistics.

The policy is an interim, allowing the Faculty Senate time to revise or review the procedures before instituting permanent measures. It also spells out GW’s in-house statute of limitations for sexual assaults and sexual harassment for the first time.

The University's procedures for reviewing allegations came under scrutiny in 2011, when a then-freshman sued GW, saying he was wrongfully found guilty of sexual assault. He alleged that the University refused to consider relevant evidence that proved him innocent. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Terri Harris Reed helped shape the interim policy over the last year, negotiating with Department of Education officials on specifics like minimum wait time for a trial to be heard. The department also called for schools to bar cases from being settled through mediation between the accused and accuser.

“That’s what every university is doing," Reed said. "They didn’t change the regulation, they said: This is how we’re going to evaluate you.”

A decade ago, the Faculty Senate sparred on the sexual harassment policy, voting down previous versions out of concern that professors who discuss sexual topics in class could face sanctions.

Pereira hopes the policy will help increase reporting numbers for a crime she called the most under-reported in the world.

“The policies are clearer, the resources are clearer and there are more people with their eyes directly on this type of issue,” Pereira said.

Senior Yasemin Ayarci said she was frustrated by the University's GW Today statement that tied sexual harassment to alcohol but was pleased to see the interim policy taking a stronger stance on sexual harassment prevention and accountability.

“It definitely looks great on paper, but I want to see the policy laid out in action,” said Ayarci, who co-hosted a sexual harassment awareness event Sept. 12. “I hope GW takes a larger emphasis on educating college students on sexual harassment and violence.”

View the policies on commenting here.

blog comments powered by Disqus