GUSA releases suggestions for improved policies surrounding sexual assault

GUSA publicly released a document over the weekend showing support for the new White House Sexual Assault Initiatives, which also offered its own suggestions for improved prevention policies here on Georgetown’s campus.

The press release states that GUSA “continues to work diligently with the university administration to improve services and judicial processes for survivors of sexual assault.” The main purpose of the initiative was to “encourage the university to improve its policies” by backing specific actions the administration might take in this process.

GUSA listed seven suggestions: making sexual history and dress inadmissible in sexual misconduct hearings, reducing contact between survivors and perpetrators in hearings, clarifying how the University would proceed with a case against the survivor’s wishes, allowing administrators to replace students on the hearing board, implementing bystander prevention education, hiring trauma specialists and confidential Health Education staff, and evaluating existing programs.

“We appreciate GUSA’s continued engagement on this important issue,” Rachel Pugh, Director of Media Relations for the University, wrote to Vox in an email. “We are committed to continuing to work together with GUSA, the Sexual Assault Working Group… and the [Disciplinary Review Committee] to continue to enhance and improve training and education, support for survivors and the conduct process at Georgetown.”

Although the rhetoric of these initiatives certainly calls for an improved reporting environment for survivors, Kathleen Kelley (NHS ’14), a sexual assault peer educator, points out that this is futile unless survivors are fully aware of these efforts and actually feel safe reporting.

“All the measures in the world aren’t useful if survivors still perceive the system as hostile and victim-blaming, and if perpetrators believe they can get away with it,” she wrote in an email to Vox.

She also stressed the importance of clarifying certain aspects of the press release regarding educational programming and discussion. According to Kelley, there are four significant components of this that should be emphasized: bystander intervention, response and support to survivors, deconstructing the rape culture at Georgetown, and resources for survivors both on and off campus.

In the context of Obama’s White House Task Force on Sexual Assault, Kelley believes that addressing this issue on a collegiate national scale is paramount in achieving Title IX’s 40-year goal to end sex discrimination in education. “I’d like to think the task force will galvanize college campuses and mobilize the necessary resources to address sexual assault, but for now it is merely symbolic,” she said.

The most recent results of the National College Health Assessment Survey, initiated on a biennial basis, have revealed that Georgetown’s numbers match those of the nation: 1 in 4 female Hoyas and 1 in 33 male Hoyas, on average, will experience sexual assault.

“Everyone thinks sexual assault is atrocious in the abstract, but when it happens within their own communities, their social circles, they fail to adequately believe and support survivors and to hold perpetrators accountable,” said Kelley. “If we don’t challenge these myths, perpetrators will keep on getting away with it.”

Photo: Lisa Norwood via flickr

5 Comments on “GUSA releases suggestions for improved policies surrounding sexual assault

  1. Honestly, as an alum, I’m really excited to see GUSA tackling this in such a thoughtful way. It shines a spotlight on the administration’s total failure to address this campus issue. Pugh’s statement is disappointing, and, as usual, lacks any sense of urgency.

  2. Keep in mind that one of the reasons that official University statements in this arena tend to be… ‘flat’ is that a university cannot be seen as prejudging or being biased in its handling of such cases. Even creating the appearance of a potential bias opens the University up to lawsuits from the accused with claims that their educational rights have been violated. We’ve seen something similar in the military, where Obama’s strong statements regarding sexual assault have been cited as evidence of “inappropriate command interference” in judicial processes. Only, as you might imagine, the UCMJ gives the accused far less leeway than is given to students in a campus administrative/conduct setting.

    This is particularly true when the proposed changes move away from established notions of due process like the right to face your accuser (“reducing contact between survivors and perpetrators in hearings”) and the right to be judged by a jury of your peers (“allowing administrators to replace students on the hearing board”). Obviously, universities are not obligated to provide criminal justice-level standards of due process in their campus conduct processes – nor should they. But they do have to strike a balance and maintain at least the appearance of impartiality, which can be a very tough thing to do.

  3. i don’t understand why having administrators on the hearing board is better than students. Especially since by passing this GUSA implies that they (students) know more than the people in charge (administrators). This seems very logically inconsistent to me.

  4. Anyone know where I can find the GUSA press release and proposal? It would be helpful if the article provided an actual link to it…

  5. Could someone explain to me why universities adjudicate sexual assault at all? Actively creating a culture of consent on campus is obviously the responsibility of a private institution, but I have never understood why universities have the authority to adjudicate what is and should be criminal behavior. Honest question.

    It seems to me that universities in general (and Georgetown in specific because it places an undue emphasis on its own reputation) are de facto biased because they have an incentive to not be seen as cesspools of assault.

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