Staff Editorial: Making a judicial process for sexual assaults that diminishes stigma and shame

“Reaching the point of a University hearing is a reason for celebration,” a sophomore wrote to administrators after going through the sexual assault judicial process last semester.

If officials think their work is done on sexual violence prevention, they’re wrong: Sexual assault survivors still aren’t celebrating. Those who bring allegations in front of a University hearing are not explicitly permitted to bring advocates or informal supporters inside. Administrators need to quickly unwind that rule.

In an already taxing system for reporting sexual assaults, the University needs to allow a support network to flourish. Forcing alleged victims and perpetrators to go into hearings alone makes the process unnecessarily arduous, as a sophomore pointed out to The Hatchet last week.

On the surface, the University has taken solid steps to improve education, reporting and judicial procedures for sexual assaults over the past year. There is no time limit in the new sexual assault policy for when an alleged survivor can report an assault. And student advocates have worked with administrators to build Haven, a website where students, faculty and staff can obtain information and report crimes.

But future progress is in jeopardy. Former Deputy Title IX Coordinator Tara Pereira, the woman responsible for progressive changes in the policy, stepped down at the end of last semester. Beyond her formal responsibilities, Pereira served as a personal supporter for dozens of sexual assault survivors, making her absence even more detrimental.

So what else should GW do? Quickly hire a new deputy Title IX director to carry out administrative duties, oversee sexual assault policy changes, and work with faculty and other administrators. But in addition, hire at least one other staffer who can serve as a student advocate during the judicial process and hearings.

Pereira was widely respected by sexual assault advocates and survivors for her diligence and empathy. But she was stretched too thin, charged with formal Title IX duties while simultaneously serving as a resource for student, faculty and staff survivors.

There simply wasn’t enough time in her day to walk survivors and alleged perpetrators through the tedious and emotionally draining hearing process.

Other new employees working on sexual assault cases on the student side, not disciplinary office, would serve as a student resources from the time they report a crime to when they have completed their hearing process.

Students need experts who makes them feel safe and confident from start to finish – a human side to a normally mechanical and intimidating process.

Other schools have gone this route. American University, for example, hired a sexual assault prevention coordinator who serves as a “confidential victim advocate” and resource for students, faculty and staff, according to the school’s website. And New York University has a staff of crisis response counselors, all of whom specialize in working with sexual assault survivors.

Hiring multiple new administrators to fill one person’s shoes might require extra funding, but creating a campus that’s safe for sexual assault victims is worth the cost.

The University could also keep in mind recent college graduates like a Presidential Administrative Fellow, who might be interested in the job, to go through substantial training and take up these responsibilities.

Administrators need to realize the urgency of the situation. A college without a dean keeps running during the often yearlong search for a replacement. But without leaders taking on sexual violence, GW leaves survivors with nowhere to go.

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