Kinjo Kiema: Mandatory expulsion could deter sexual assault, improve campus climate

We’ve heard all the suggestions countless times – don’t walk alone at night, never accept an open drink, carry pepper spray with you, don’t wear clothes that are too suggestive, don’t drink too much.

Universally, these recommendations imply the same thing: Women, please alter your behavior to avoid unwanted and unwarranted violence against yourself. It’s nothing innovative or progressive to tell women that the solution to sexual violence lies within. (Besides, let’s remember that even if I were to avoid alcohol consumption in social situations, it wouldn’t stop a potential predator from assaulting someone else.)

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Kinjo Kiema

Last week, student leaders floated a proposal to incorporate mandatory sexual violence training into Colonial Inauguration. Teaching new students – especially those leaving home for the first time – about sexual violence and bystander intervention is a wonderful place to start.

But GW could and should do more. Instead of contriving methods to prevent people from being assaulted, we should focus on deterring that kind of behavior altogether by making expulsion the default consequence for those found guilty of severe types of sexual violence.

Expulsion isn’t the default punishment at most universities. In fact, just one so far – Dartmouth College – has made it mandatory, while some others – including Duke and Stanford universities – have adjusted their policies to make it the “preferred” sanction. But GW could be one of the schools leading the way in combating the epidemic of sexual violence on campuses by adopting mandatory expulsion.

This policy would guarantee that students who are found guilty of violent and criminal acts would never be allowed back at our University. Without it, we jeopardize the safety of students here, and force survivors to potentially have to interact with their attackers.

Although it sounds extreme, this isn’t really a radical idea when you think about it. There are plenty of other serious rule violations that will cause you to be removed from campus permanently, like repeated drug violations or academic dishonesty.

As it stands, the consequences for sexual violence are – at minimum – a year of suspension and eviction from University-owned housing. That’s problematic because if the minimum is applied, perpetrators are essentially just getting a couple semesters off before they return to GW.

Of course, “Every case is decided on its own facts, including when a violation is found and what the severity of the sanction will be,” University spokesman Kurt Hiatt told me. But Hiatt declined to detail how often the minimum consequences are applied and how often students are expelled.

Other schools are already heading toward adopting mandatory expulsion policies, with the goal of both protecting survivors and sending the message that sexual assault is inexcusable.

Last summer, Dartmouth made expulsion the mandatory consequence for those found guilty of “extreme cases” of sexual assault, though it failed to define “extreme cases” clearly – or at all. Defining what constitutes “extreme,” and then ensuring that those found guilty are permanently removed from campus, would prevent the policy from being arbitrarily applied.

Similarly, Duke made expulsion the “preferred sanction” for those found guilty of sexual assault, and students at Stanford advocated for the policy change after campus-wide protests.

Dartmouth is one of 94 schools under investigation for Title IX violations – while Duke, Stanford and GW are not. So, clearly, schools are mobilizing to adjust their policies even without the motivation of having spots on their records.

Still, some have argued that mandatory expulsion will lead to fewer people reporting incidents of sexual violence because if the perpetrator is someone a survivor knows, they will hesitate to have them kicked off campus permanently. That’s a problem created by the fact that almost all survivors know their assailants – might share a friend group, even – and would fear social repercussions.

But survivors can also be deterred because they think they’ll be forced to go through a grueling process and the University will still take little to no action. In the recent campus-wide sexual violence survey, half of students said they “didn’t know” whether the University would respond helpfully to a reported incident, showing a widespread lack of trust in the school’s ability to tackle the issue appropriately. For these survivors, it’s essential they know that if their assailant is found guilty, they’ll be removed from campus immediately.

Reporting of sexual violence is rare in general. The higher rate of reporting at GW this year shows that more people feel comfortable seeking help from authorities after an abuse. However, on a campus of 10,000 students, where 36 percent of female upperclassmen and 35 percent of LGBT students said they had experienced “unwanted sexual behavior,” there is clearly more work to do.

It might be challenging for us to accept, but eradicating sexual assault on campus can only be accomplished by grasping the problem at the root: targeting those who perpetuate this culture of violence.

Kinjo Kiema, a sophomore majoring in political communication and American studies, is a Hatchet columnist. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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