New sexual assault policy to be formalized

The University is working to develop a comprehensive policy to address sexual assault on campus to comply with federal guidelines and demonstrate a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment.

The policy will distinguish the discipline protocol for offenders of sexual assault from those who commit other acts of prohibited violence, a distinction the Code of Student Conduct does not detail.

“We’re looking at best practices,” Assistant Dean of Students Tara Pereira, who oversees the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, said.

The University Police Department, Office of General Counsel and Office for Diversity and Inclusion are working with Pereira to develop the policy, although she declined to comment on what she hoped implementing the policy would change.

Pereira said a time frame has not been set for the policy’s release.

“It’s something that’s very important to all of us,” she said. “We are all putting a ton of time and energy into this topic on all fronts.”

Already set in motion, the efforts were accelerated by an April 4 open letter released by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

“Sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX [federal education law],” according to the letter.

The letter suggests that “developing materials on sexual harassment and violence, which should be distributed to students during orientation and upon receipt of complaints, as well as widely posted throughout school buildings and residence halls” can proactively reduce sexual assault.

Explicit definitions of sexual violence, victim procedures, counseling information and response protocol should be included in each school’s comprehensive policy, according to the letter.

About one in five women are victims of attempted or completed sexual assault during their time at college, The National Institute of Justice found.

“The department is deeply concerned about this problem and is committed to ensuring all students feel safe in their school,” according to the letter.

Last year, the University convicted three students for sexual assault offences – a jump from just one in the 2009-2010 academic year. Since 2008, a total of 30 sexual offenses have been reported to UPD for both the Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses.

Katherine Hull, spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network said colleges are increasingly aware of the importance of addressing sexual assault “as the violent crime it is.”

“That’s very promising news that GW is considering creating a formalized sexual assault policy,” she said.

Hull hopes the policy will emphasize risk reduction and incorporate more city police force involvement to facilitate criminal processing of sexual perpetrators.

“College-aged students are at the highest risk for sexual assault,” she said. “Quite often it could be someone that lives in your dorm or is in class with you.”

The University faced a lawsuit from a freshman earlier this year, who targeted the Code of Student Conduct while alleging that unfair disciplinary hearings found him wrongfully guilty of sexual assault, resulting in his suspension. He was allowed to stay on campus after the courts interjected to allow his protest of the suspension to be heard in trial. The legal clash settled this summer with an out-of-court compromise, the details of which were not made public. It is unknown if the student is living on campus this semester.

In recent years, several of the University’s market basket and neighboring schools implemented specific sexual violence policies.

New York University established its sexual assault guidelines in 2006. American University revised its student conduct code to reflect detailed definitions and sanctions for rape, sexual assault, stalking and harassment in June 2010.

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