Committee to revamp sex crime policy

A University subcommittee was created Friday to reexamine GW’s definition of sexual offenses and to reassess the sanctions it imposes against students who commit sex-related crimes on campus.

The creation of the new subcommittee – an off-shoot of the Joint Committee of Faculty and Students – is the culmination of a year filled with research of the rape and sexual assault policies at other universities, said Adam Siple, a former Student Association senator who has pushed for reexamination of GW’s sex crimes policy.

The changes aim to tailor the definition, classification and policy related to rape and sexual offenses to fit campus needs, according to a Senate resolution last spring that recommended revamped policy for dealing with sex crimes.

“(The current) policy just doesn’t communicate the right kind of values to the GW community,” Siple said.

The University updated its rape and sexual assault policy as recently as two years ago, Dean of Students Linda Donnels said. But Siple said he found GW’s sexual assault and rape reporting ineffective compared to other universities.

With the help of Katie Koestner – a rape victim who addressed the issue in a lecture on campus last year – Siple and other GW students began to research the University’s method of reporting and recording rape and sexual assault statistics.

The major aim of the Senate resolution is to broaden the definition of rape recognized under the Student Code of Conduct, but it also recommends more stringent sanctions to be recommended through judicial services and administered by the dean of students for sex-related crimes.

The Code currently defines rape as “engaging in sexual intercourse with any person without that person’s consent.” Sexual assault is described in the Code as “sexual invasion other than sexual intercourse upon any person without that person’s consent.”

But the resolution goes a step further, asserting that “the definition for sexual assault in the `Code’ is inaccurate. Sexual assault is rape.”

The SA proposed sexual assault be listed before rape in the prohibited conduct section of the Code.

The resolution also recommends that acquaintance/date rape be reclassified as a rape/sexual assault, Siple said.

This addition is essential, he said, because University Police Department statistics show that date and acquaintance rapes are the most common sexual offenses at GW.

In 1996, three rapes were reported to UPD, all of which were acquaintance rapes.

Siple said students’ work already has resulted in some changes in the way GW maintains sex crime statistics.

Previously, records of rapes or sexual assaults reported to a resident assistant or counselor instead of UPD were eliminated, a policy Siple said has been reversed.

This year the University published a list of resources in the student planner for victims of sexual assaults that included off-campus support organizations. UPD has created an anonymous reporting procedure for victims who do not want to press charges, but would like to have the crime recorded, Siple said.

In addition, the interpretation of “consent” is under the new committee’s consideration.

The current policy does not specifically list the terms of consent because the University wanted to ensure it would be all-encompassing, Donnels said.

The Code at present says, ” `Without consent’ means inflicted through the use of force or the threat of force, or on a person who has refused consent, who is unconscious, or who is otherwise without capacity to consent.”

The Senate recommends that consent “require actual words or conduct indicating a freely-given agreement to have sexual intercourse, or to participate in sexual activities.”

Silence, previous sexual relationships, current relationship with perpetrator or the use of drugs and alcohol are not indications of consent, the resolution notes.

The resolution specifically points out that the use of alcohol or drugs by the perpetrator is an unacceptable excuse for rape or sexual assault.

The resolution also calls for more stringent sanctions against those who commit sexual offenses.

The current policy sets a minimum sanction of a one-year suspension for students who commit sexual assault or rape. But advocates of the resolution are asking for the minimal sanction to be erased, leaving expulsion as the punishment for sexual assault/rape.

“People can’t be let off the hook if they rape or assault someone. We need to set a tone,” Siple said.

“If someone should commit rape, they will be expelled,” said Donnels. “The person will also face legal sanctions. The University does not substitute for a court of law.”

The resolution will be passed to the faculty and student Senates for final approval after the subcommittee considers it. The proposal also will be analyzed by GW’s legal counsel.

GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and the University’s Board of Trustees will make the final decision on changes to the sex crimes policy.

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