Amendments to sexual harassment policy at GW spark debate

On Monday, the GW Hatchet announced that the University will launch a new website called “HAVEN” next spring with a breakdown of the new sexual harassment policy as well as any relevant information or resources for students.

The new sexual assault policy changes:

  • allow accusers to maintain confidentiality throughout legal proceedings
  •  provide the victim a 180-day window to file a report of sexual abuse
  • give both parties the right to appeal the court’s verdict
  • state that victim-violator mediation is not an option
  • enact more stringent anti-retaliation policies

According to the GW Interim Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence Policy and Procedures, “Complainants” may request to be confidential during the review stage “as long as it does not prevent the university from responding effectively to the incident and protecting other members of the campus community.” The policy also states that if the “Respondent” is a member of GW faculty or staff, the “Complainant” must reveal information on that person to begin the hearing procedure.

GW’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, published on October 1st, 2012, reported that incidents of sexual assault on the Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses increased by four cases between 2010 and 2011. This finding raised concern for the security of students.  By allowing accusers more confidentiality and less fear of retaliation, the University hopes to encourage students to report incidents of sexual harassment and abuse.

Supporters of the policy changes point out that, according to the Department of Education, 20 percent of women in college become victims of sexual abuse, and that 95 percent of rape incidents in college are unreported. By allowing victims to remain anonymous, expanding the time window in which abuse can be reported, and reassuring victims that reporting abuse will not yield retaliation, University officials hope to call attention to abuses that would have otherwise gone unreported for fear of reprobation from the accused or social retaliation.

In an interview with the GW Hatchet, Chair of the Faculty Senate’s executive committee Michael Castleberry said, “The whole idea that a woman who has been sexually assaulted has to go in and confront the accuser hurts the healing process. The University’s code has to reflect those kinds of changes.”

Comments on GW Hatchet forums express concern that by allowing the accuser to remain anonymous throughout the hearing procedure, the University violates the Sixth Amendment by not upholding due process.

An op-ed published in the GW Patriot questions the fairness of the policy, stating that it provides a venue for students to falsely charge others with sexual harassment. “Rape and related sexual assault is already one of the few crimes in America in which, according to societal perception, a man is guilty until proven innocent. Obviously, it should be the other way around. A university is an institution of higher learning. How come ours has to accept lower judicial standards?” the student wrote.

Other students quoted in the Hatchet want to see the policy implemented, but also value sexual education and other methods as important tools as well. The University’s response, so far, to these concerns lies in the new website which will launch in the spring. Until then, the new policy will go into effect.

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