Staff Editorial: Handling of Sexual Assault Questioned
In light of the recent $10 million lawsuit against the university, campus safety and police responsibility is constantly being questioned.
In recent years, the administration has taken steps to make the campus safer, including installing cameras in the parking deck after the student was sexually assaulted there. While the perception of safety is comforting, the student experience is much different.
There is a sense among female students at UMW that if they go to the UMW police to report a sexual assault, they will be discouraged from doing so. Whether this is true or not, the existence of this feeling reflects negatively on UMW.
According to the Clery Act, which was enacted in 1990, universities must give annual reports of criminal behavior on their websites. This allows students to report criminal incidents to the police knowing that the police have to report these instances to the general public.
However, this same act potentially gives campus police, who report to the university, an incentive to not report all crime out of a desire for a better public image.
This does not diminish the importance of reporting all crime, especially sexual assault. There needs to be a culture on campus that allows women to feel safe and protected by the law.
Though there is an incentive for campus police to keep the school’s image positive, no student should ever be encouraged to seek redress through the Judicial Review Board, Honor Council or Student Conduct Hearing Board after reporting a sexual assault.
While these bodies determine if a student has violated school policy, it is not a court proceeding with legal or criminal ramifications, and there is no determination of criminal guilt or innocence.
To address the feeling on campus that the university is apathetic to the needs of sexual assault victims, the UMW police need to advertise their training in investigating sexual assault so that students will feel comfortable reaching out to them.
If the UMW police do have this training, they should emphasize that they have it and publicize that they are willing to actively use this training in order to benefit of students who have been sexually assaulted and to dissuade potential assaulters from criminal behavior because of the consequences.
The UMW administration should also emphasize that sexual assault cases will be vigorously investigated and that the college will encourage criminal prosecution in all cases, rather than handling the matter through administrative and student-led groups.
In addition, students need to be just as proactive in reporting criminal behavior of this nature. If a student is sexually assaulted, they should take care of themselves afterward both physically and mentally, including going to a hospital for their health and for the collection of possible evidence.
Students should be proactive in reporting these instances, regardless of what they’re told. But they also shouldn’t be persuaded against filing an official report, which could help others in future situations.