Colleges have a poor record on sexual assault cases, but Georgetown does better than most

A recent study by the Center for Public Integrity has found that at colleges and universities across the country, sexual assaults and rapes are being under- or unreported, and many students who are victims of these crimes face confusing bureaucratic processes when they try to confront their attackers.

Proceedings against suspects in such cases are often conducted with little transparency and in a way that keeps cases relatively hush-hush, the first part of the study said. Rather than be prosecued by attorneys, sexual assaults are often adjudicated through the school’s disciplinary structure, which can be a closed affair, or resolved through informal mediation by an administrator.

The second part of the article describes how some students feel their schools are more interested in avoiding negative fallout from alleged incidents than helping their students, and that very few universities give their students training on how to respond to sexual assault. And in the third part, the report found that many schools don’t report the number of sexual assaults recorded on campus to their students accurately.

So how does Georgetown stack up? While its responses to sexual assault often concern us, its official policies place it above most of the schools studied in the report.

Although many schools use a loophole in the Clery Act that exempts counselors from reporting rape and sexual assault data so that they are not included in crime reports, at Georgetown, “[s]exual assaults documented by University counseling services are reported anonymously as statistics in the annual crime report,” according to an e-mail from Associate Vice President for Public Safety Joseph Smith. (They take care not to violate counselor-victim confidentiality, Smith said).

Reports of sexual assault are adjudicated through the Office of Student Conduct (so, not mediated casually by an administrator). And while Public Safety Alerts are sent out at the discretion of DPS, rapes and sexual assaults are always included in the Daily Crime Log.

For years, however, Georgetown was one of many schools which prohibited victims of sexual assaults from ever disclosing the identity of their attackers or their punishments if they were ‘convicted’ of the crime they were accused of. The Clery Act, which compels universities to make crime data public, is often interpreted as running up against the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which forbids schools from divulging information about a student’s academic and disciplinary record.

Kate Dieringer (NHS ’05) found out the hard way that FERPA could protect the identity of an assailant when she was drugged and sexually assaulted in 2002, reported the attack, and signed a confidentiality agreement with the school to find out what had happened to her attacker. She learned that he had initially been expelled before the sentence was overturned and he was instead suspended for one year. Disgusted as she was, she could only tell her parents and “one close adviser,” who could tell no one.

Dieringer also recalls the initial disciplinary proceedings at Georgetown in a way that resembles many of those decried by the Center for Public Integrity’s report—aggressive and confrontational toward her:

Dieringer said she was questioned more harshly than the respondent, the student facing the charges.“They asked me things like why I was with him, why did I know him,” she explained.

She said that she felt as if she was the one on trial. “I’m always thinking about which was worse: being raped or the adjudication process,” she maintains.

With help from S. Daniel Carter, Senior Vice President of Security On Campus, Inc., Dieringer sued Georgetown and the Department of Education compelled Georgetown to amend its policy. At Georgetown, the identities at students ruled to have committed rape or sexual assault are no longer protected.

Via U.S. News & World Report’s The Paper Trail

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