JCFS reviews sexual assault, rape policies

The Joint Committee of Faculty and Students discussed a proposal Friday that would integrate rape under the definition of sexual assault, change reporting and victim assistance procedures, and enhance campus awareness about the issue.

The Student Association Senate-sponsored resolution presented to the JCFS Friday intends to eliminate “the distinction between rape and sexual assault,” according to literature distributed at the meeting. If implemented, the proposal will amend the current Student Code of Conduct policies.

The amendments would combine the first two parts of the section of the code to create a single definition of sexual assault that encompasses rape.

“Sexual assault is defined as rape, forcible sodomy or sexual penetration with an inanimate object, the intentional touching of an unwilling person’s parts . or an unwilling person to touch another’s intimate part,” according to the resolution.

The code defines rape as “engaging in sexual intercourse with any person without that person’s consent.” Sexual assault is defined as “inflicting a sexual invasion other than sexual intercourse upon any person without that person’s consent.”

“Incidents of rape usually involve sexual assault,” said senior Adam Siple, student chair of JCFS. “It is often difficult, however, to convict the perpetrator on charges of rape.”

Siple said the “most crucial problem” with the current policy is that most rapes and incidents of sexual assault at GW involve alcohol or acquaintances, making it more difficult to prosecute. The issue is better accounted for under the revised code, Siple said.

An SA Senate subcommittee initiated by Siple in 1996 also first worked on the proposal and recommended altering the definition of “consent.” Currently, the code prohibits sexual intercourse or invasion “without consent,” which 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 resolution would say, “Consent requires 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 alcohol and/or drugs may not be taken as an indication of consent, according to the resolution.

The proposal outlines three other areas that need enhancement.

First, the report addressed GW’s response to sexual assault victims. The subcommittee cited discrepancies in reporting procedures in the administration and University Police Department, which include differences in how cases were reported and a confusing chain of command.

To date, only reports filed with UPD are counted as rapes. The new proposal will define more clearly how to report incidents, which reports will be included in University statistics, and in which offices reports will be filed. The new policy also will encompass sexual assaults that occur off campus – within the D.C. area – involving two or more GW students.

Second, the Senate subcommittee found sexual assault victim assistance and response procedures insufficient. The subcommittee recommended the University provide more information on resources to students apart from the student planner, such as off-campus counseling options.

“The subcommittee also examined complaints from sexual assault victims who said they felt they had received inadequate assistance from the University Counseling Center; it recommended the center improve its readiness for sexual assault victims,” Siple said.

Expulsion is the recommended minimum sanction for sexual assault, including rape, in the proposal. The code recommends a one-year suspension and eviction from any GW-owned housing.

But JCFS members voiced concern at the meeting about the overlap between the definition of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the new policy.

Members said the overlap of terms would affect Student Judicial Services’ handling of “close call” cases because the wording would either make punishment too severe in the case of sexual assault or too lenient in the case of rape.

After the revisions and approval by the JCFS, the proposal will move on to the Faculty Senate and SA for final approval by March, Siple said. He said he hopes the revised code will pass through the Faculty Senate before next year.

“I would like to see GW get a better policy on sexual assault on the books. The new policy is a foundation and I hope it will make the University community realize these are serious issues and need to be addressed with similar regard,” Siple said.

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