Guest Post: How Does your Private College Respond to Rape and Sexual Assault?


Photo credit: Hilary Whyte
This is a guest post from Wheaton College students Alyssa Colby, Caitlin Libby and Ariel Perry, who we connected with during the Feministing tour this Fall.
On Friday May 7th, the Wheaton College (MA) Hearing Board convened to review a case of alleged rape. Like many other women on this campus who have reported a rape, the victim was required to stand in front of her two accusers, the board, and her accuser’s character witnesses and testify her story. Ultimately her alleged rapists were acquitted by the Hearing Board but her story prompted students on this campus to organize to change the policies and procedures by which Wheaton College responds to and deals with sexual assault and rape.
Today at 12:00 we are organizing on the college quad to demand that our college create a committee to reexamine and reform the existing policy and make necessary changes to it next year. We demand that our college create this committee to be appointed in the following Fall semester. We demand that this board consists of students, faculty, and trained professionals, as well as administrators. We demand that steps be taken to further this before the May 22nd 2010 commencement, and that this board be established at the beginning of the Fall 2010 semester and begin reviewing the policy immediately.
We, members of the Wheaton College community, believe that the sexual misconduct policy currently in place is flawed. We believe that this case is not a unique or isolated incident. Rather, we feel that the case outcome is a failure of the Wheaton College Sexual Misconduct policy itself, and that therefore this policy must be changed immediately.


We find many flaws in the existing policy and procedures:
We take issue with the fact that cases of sexual misconduct are heard by the college hearing board of students, faculty, and staff. Despite how competent these individuals may be, without the proper training and knowledge regarding sexual assault, we feel they are incapable of arriving at an appropriate decision. We feel that having a board that decides on cases of plagiarism and underage drinking, also make decisions on rape allegations belittles the incident itself and is insulting to the victim.
We take issue with the fact that in cases of alleged sexual assault the complainant is expected to effectively argue her own case, without support, and in the presence of her accused rapists. We find this aspect of the current policy insensitive and a severely inhibiting factor in the complainant’s ability to accurately articulate her account.
We take issue with the policy that mandates that the Dean of Students has the discretion to suspend a student accused of sexual misconduct while waiting for a hearing and whether or not the accused is a threat to campus safety. We believe this should be a collaborative decision made by trained professionals on a sexual assault response team, rather than individuals within the administration. We also feel that the opinions of those involved and witnesses to the events should be taken into consideration when deciding this.
We take issue with lack of amnesty for students who are violating other college policies (such as underage drinking) when they are assaulted. Because of how serious sexual assault is, we believe that encouraging students to come forth and report regardless of external factors should be at the forefront of the college’s agenda.
We believe that it is essential that information regarding the hearing board case procedures are thoroughly and repeatedly provided to the complainant so that this student is aware of all of the necessary measures she/he should take in order to effectively reach a just decision. We also believe that the sexual misconduct policy must be more available and readily accessible. We believe that the steps that a victim could take following an assault should be made clear even if the complainant is unsure that he/she wishes to pursue a hearing. Furthermore, we think that this information should be better advertised among the general student body, and not just those who have suffered an assault.
We believe that the college must begin circulating preventive information about sexual misconduct that is not solely aimed at victims. It must recognize that in order to stop rape we must teach the student body the boundaries of sexual conduct, and that under no circumstances should a victim be made to feel accountable for her/his assault based on external circumstances at the time.
We encourage other students at private institutions to review and challenge their existing rape and sexual assault policies and procedures to ensure that they meet the standards of civil justice.
By Alyssa Colby ’11, Caitlin Libby ’10, Ariel Perry ’11

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13 Comments

  1. cattrack2
    Posted May 12, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    “We take issue with the fact that in cases of alleged sexual assault the complainant is expected to effectively argue her own case, without support, and in the presence of her accused rapists.”
    Our system of justice guarantees with the 6th Amendment the right to confront one’s accusers, so I think–even in a private setting–that its difficult to dispense with that guarantee of fairness.
    With your 1st recommendation what you’re essentially suggesting is the ‘professionalization’ of the process. I think both the goals of justice and fairness could be achieved through a system of ombudsman. The Duke and Hofstra cases are good examples of what happens when the system does not focus on both justice and fairness.
    Ombudsman could be appointed or elected from within the student ranks (or from willing faculty) both to prosecute cases on behalf of complainants, and to defend cases on behalf of defendants. If these ombudsman only job was to focus on public safety or sexual assault cases we could ensure that they were highly knowledgeable about the process & could advise both parties well.

  2. gwye
    Posted May 12, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    We take issue with the fact that in cases of alleged sexual assault the complainant is expected to effectively argue her own case, without support, and in the presence of her accused rapists.
    Shouldn’t the accused have the right to hear the evidence brought against them? And if the accusor is given “support”, will you the accused “support” too?
    Aside from that objection, I have to commend authors. This is certainly a necessary project.

  3. paperispatient
    Posted May 13, 2010 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Shouldn’t the accused have the right to hear the evidence brought against them?
    Yes, but I take issue with how some schools handle that. I was a witness at a disciplinary hearing for the guy who raped my friend because I was there earlier in the night. The people on the committee could ask me questions, and he could directly ask me questions too. That really, really intimidated and scared me, as I’d had interactions with him both before and after the rape that made me extremely uneasy. If I was that uncomfortable and intimidated by him questioning me, quadruple that and you’d get close to how my friend felt having to answer his questions.
    So while I do think people who are accused absolutely have the right to hear the evidence against them and to have someone there on their behalf (both the rapist and my friend had advisors), I have to say that I don’t think the accused should be allowed to interrogate the accuser. The supporter or representative of the accused, I think that would be more appropriate and more like what happens in a courtroom.
    My friend had been suffering from PTSD and some other psychological and emotional issues because of the rape, and the whole ordeal of trying to hold him accountable for what he did was exhausting and upsetting enough, and then you factor in having to be questioned by him and defend herself directly against him – again.

  4. Uppity Broad
    Posted May 13, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    When did we get to the place that some English teacher gets to decide law enforcement matters? I know the schools love this because they can manipulate their crime statistics to current and incoming students. This isn’t exactly traffic control to the football game. I’d look into having the hearing officers arrested for impersonating police officers and judges. Of which they are neither.

  5. SarahfromSAFER
    Posted May 13, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    This is an awesome post, thanks to the folks at Feministing for letting these students have a forum for it. Alyssa, Caitlin, and Ariel have a great, reasonable, articulate list of demands and I commend them. Ladies, if you’re reading this, I encourage you to contact us at Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER http://www.safercampus.org) at contact@safercampus.org.

  6. Zarastar
    Posted May 13, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I’m not totally sure why this is dealt with within the school system. As far as I’m aware of, there are only academic repercussions when it’s done this way, such as expulsion, but not legal ramifications. Can the students take the accused to an actual legal court? I’ve always thought this was a problem and am fully behind this movement. How this is being handled at this school is woefully outdated and lacks any sensitivity to the seriousness and trauma of the trial and crime.

  7. paperispatient
    Posted May 13, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    The way my undergrad school handled it, if you reported a rape to security, they also submitted your statement to the local police department, and then it was up to you whether you wanted to take disciplinary action through the college, to press charges with the police, both, or neither. The friend I mentioned in a comment above wanted to do both, but the police told her that there wouldn’t be enough evidence to prosecute legally; she was still able to take action against him through the college’s disciplinary hearings board, but his punishment was extremely disappointing (couldn’t walk at graduation and can’t return to campus now that he’s graduated).

  8. SarahfromSAFER
    Posted May 13, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    @zarastar and uppity,
    Schools are required to tell students reporting assaults that they have the option of reporting to the police and handling matters through the traditional legal system, however many students choose to forgo the police and use the school’s disciplinary system. There are a lot of reasons for this decision, among them that the criminal justice system is not known for success at finding justice for rape victims, particularly in cases of acquaintance rape like the ones that often occur on college campuses. Also the process can seem/is far more lengthy and involved and intimidating. I think students who choose to use the school’s system are aware of how it is distinct from the criminal justice system, and are looking for more immediate forms of comfort and justice, like having their attacker removed from student housing or expelled from school so they don’t run into each other.
    I’ve written about this elsewhere, but the short version is: schools have codes of conduct. Sexual assault is a violation of that code, and as such, those who violate the code should be sanctioned by the school. The choice to report and who to report to is the survivor’s alone, and I think that always has to be respected.

  9. feministjen
    Posted May 13, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    At Ohio State University, for sexual misconduct cases, there is a partition available between the accuser and accused. This is one way to deal with issues of post-traumatic stress and other issues specific to cases involving sexual violence.

  10. makomk
    Posted May 13, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    On the other hand, it’s quite easy to come up with schemes that remove all guarantees of fairness and indeed any semblance to normal systems of justice at all. At least, it’s quite easy to do it when you’re female and therefore guaranteed never to be on the receiving end of your proposed system. (Also, note that Twisty Faster doesn’t care if men get raped when they’re in jail either, no matter why they’re there. There’s a reason feminism got such a bad reputation.)
    In fact, both Twisty’s scheme in particular and most other proposed schemes have one interesting aspect: even never having sex doesn’t protect men from being falsely found to be rapists. Firstly because the ability to claim that no intercourse happened and be believed has no place in an “effective” system. Secondly, because even if the intercourse in question was actually the woman raping the man, this wouldn’t stop him being considered a rapist since everyone knows women don’t rape*. I suspect that this proposal will probably have the same issue, if the training given to members of the hearing board is effective.
    * May not apply to women of color. Your mileage may vary.

  11. Nasheen
    Posted May 13, 2010 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have anything constructive to say, just wanted to say that it’s inspiring to see you taking action like this and I wish you the best of luck!

  12. bartelbe
    Posted May 14, 2010 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Is this some bizarre parallel universe? Why on earth are universities dealing with criminal matters. You already have an organisation to deal with rapes and sexual assaults. It is called the police and judgements are made by the courts. The reason why private colleges have a system which you consider to be unfair, is because they are involving themselves in matters which are non of their business. If someone is accused of a serious offence they have to right to a fair trial, in a real court. If you cannot get a criminal conviction, that is the end of the matter, they are innocent. You do not get to to try them again in your own private court.

  13. Cassius
    Posted May 14, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    What are they demanding for ? Shouldnt that be the buissnes of real police and a real court rather than a committee ? What are the proposed reforms going to change anyway ? The committee wont still be qualified to deal with those cases.

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