GW removes time limit to report sexual assaults

by Brianna Gurciullo | Metro News Editor

The University reversed course on a key part of its sexual assault policy this week, lifting its time limit for victims to file formal complaints.

Victims previously had two years to report sexual assaults to GW, a time frame that was established in the spring because officials said the crime is nearly impossible to prosecute after months or years have passed.

The latest policy, which was amended Monday, says a victim should file a complaint "as soon as possible after the alleged harassment occurs." It does not list a precise time limit.

"The University recognizes that victims of sexual harassment may not always file complaints immediately, but notes that its ability to perform an administrative review may be limited by the passage of time," the policy reads.

The change comes after 19 Student Association leaders lashed back at the policy, signing an open letter calling on administrators to abolish the time window last spring.

GW first added a time frame of 180 days last fall, before extending it to two years. That restriction set GW apart from at least 50 other universities without a reporting deadline.

University President Steven Knapp said in an interview Friday that University leaders decided to revert to GW's original policy on timelines after receiving feedback. He said there was a misunderstanding that a statute of limitations "meant you absolutely must raise the issue after that period of time."

He added that the policy's current language, which does not set a deadline, still asks, "but, please, hurry up."

"It's a very, very serious matter that we want to take seriously and want to give everyone the opportunity to have their situations addressed in a fair way, and how you do that exactly is exactly what had to be worked out in more detail," he said.

He said the original two-year restriction was meant to encourage quicker reporting.

"The concern is, if people wait too long and students graduate, witnesses disappear, it's very hard to investigate, to do a fair investigation of something if it goes on too long," Knapp said.

Senior Vice President and General Counsel Beth Nolan told The Hatchet in May the deadline would ensure "complaints are still fresh and memories haven't faded."

The cut-off only applied to filing formal complaints, and victims could come forward to ask about support services at any time.

GW began to revamp its now eight-year-old policy after the Department of Education penned an open "Dear Colleague" letter in 2011, asking universities to update and strengthen their sexual violence codes.

Nearly 20 percent of women who attend college are victims of actual or attempted sexual assault, according to the Department of Education, but an overwhelming number of those incidents go unreported. The number of sexual assault reports at GW totaled 12 in 2010 and 16 in 2011.

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