A sexual assault happens every two minutes, according to the Department of Justice. Many of these occur on college campuses across the country, and GW is no exception.
The University’s sexual assault policy was approved by the Faculty Senate Friday and awaits a Board of Trustees vote this week. But the policy is largely imperfect.
A mere two-year statute of limitations puts pressure on sexual assault victims, restricting them from coming forward after that time unless they prove they have “good cause.” The clock ticks until opportunities for justice run out.
And sexual assault resources for the GW community will waste away unless they are publicized at events like Colonial Inauguration, the first of which begins in one month. The clock ticks until the University broadcasts the policy to those who need it most.
Statute of limitations
Under the interim policy, approved last fall, alleged victims of sexual assault had a mere 180 days to report their case and take judicial action within the University. After cries from students that this time period was too short, administrators extended the statute of limitations to two years.
This is an improvement, but still isn’t enough time.
Both American and Georgetown universities do not have comparable caps in their sexual assault policies. D.C. law sets its statute of limitations between 10 and 15 years, depending on the case.
So why, then, does GW set a limit?
GW’s Deputy Title IX Director Tara Pereira, who helped draft the policy, told The Hatchet that in her experience, the majority of sexual assault cases are reported to the University within two years. And she might be right.
But for many victims of sexual assault, it can take many years to come forward to their friends and family – if they ever do – let alone proceed with legal action.
A time limit only increases the likelihood that sexual assault victims will never report the crime – the exact opposite intention of the University if its goal is to create a comfortable environment for alleged victims on campus.
Instead of a two-year statute, the rules and procedures for a trial should apply as long as both parties are still enrolled or employed at the University.
University administrators have also said they constructed the policy with the reasoning that memory becomes hazy over time, and setting a two-year statute of limitations might eliminate the chance for students to present a case after forgetting pertinent details.
However, the fallibility of memory will always be a problem in judicial cases of all kinds.
Just like in other types of cases, the purpose of a trial is to air out the details and sift through the evidence to establish whether or not the accusation is legitimate. Cases that have no grounds will, of course, be thrown out.
To stop potential victims from even getting to the point where they can present their cases is unfair, illogical and contributes to the existing stigma surrounding sexual assault.
This bureaucratic and undefined guideline only intimidates and restricts students at a time when they need institutional support the most.
The University has outlined an appeals process for students who are interested in presenting their case after the two-year period has ended, assuming a person has “good cause” to do so.
But the University did not outline “good cause” anywhere in the policy, making those people who may want to wait to bring a case forward feel like their justification for delaying might not suffice. And for those who aren’t aware of this provision, the two-year statute might deter them from coming forward at all.
And creating the need to appeal – yet another level of bureaucracy – makes the uphill battle for potential victims that much harder.
Introducing “good cause” to the policy implies that not all instances of alleged sexual assault are worth the University’s time. Hindering an individual’s right to a trial prevents both parties in a sexual assault case from sharing their evidence and point of view.
Access to sexual assault information
To create a successful policy, the University community must first know that it exists. And right now, that is not the case.
The Faculty Senate Committee on Professional Ethics and Academic Freedom solicited advice from a few students and faculty members when reviewing the policy. Pereira said she met with student leaders on sexual assault issues to gauge their opinions on the issue.
But the University cannot reasonably expect the policy to serve as the definitive authority on sexual assault cases unless a large group of students see the policy as valid and fight for its forceful implementation.
Now that the policy is on its way to official approval by the Board of Trustees this week, administrators should work to make information regarding sexual assault widely available to students.
And the University already has some intentions to do so. Administrators are discussing ways to incorporate the U ASK app – which includes hotlines and office locations for medical and counseling resources for the GW community onto the widely downloaded GW Mobile app. Combining U ASK information with other resources seems like a quick and easy fix.
Additionally, the University is creating a website called HAVEN where students, faculty and visitors can access sexual assault resources.
But both of these programs are only ideas – and have been for months. As a new class of freshmen arrive on campus, administrators must take quick action: these resources should be disseminated to new students as early as Colonial Inauguration so that they have these important resources.
A mere email blast with a link to the policy is insufficient in publicizing the information to the community. The document – lengthy and ridden with legal jargon – is not accessible. Besides, it is irresponsible to merely send an email to inform the community of provisions on such a pervasive campus issue.
Instead, the University should publicize a fact sheet highlighting the sexual assault policy’s important points. This could serve as a resource for students from the moment they arrive on campus, instead of ending up cast away in the trash folder of students’ GW emails.
With 31 days until CI, the administration can still make these pertinent changes.
But the clock is ticking.