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University News

Task force focuses on sexual assault policies

Students voice hope that revisions to code of conduct include changes to sexual assault policies

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A group of students has formed a Sexual Assault Policy Task Force to gather information in preparation for the University’s Code of Student Conduct policy review next semester.

The task force aims to provide support to survivors and promote awareness about sexual assault on campus, said Kevin Carty ’15, a member of the group and former Herald opinions columnist.

Harpo Jaeger ’14 and Lena Barsky ’14 came up with the idea for the group last summer when they realized they both had friends who had been sexually assaulted on campus and who had negative experiences while going through the hearing process, Barsky said.

“We thought for a process that was supposed to be helping victims reclaim their lives and get some sort of justice, why aren’t we hearing anything good about this?” she said. “When we came back to school, we just wanted to get more information and find out what was going on.”

When the code of conduct last came up for review in 2009, the University made several changes, including switching oversight of hearings from a single individual to a panel of students, administrators and deans.

Those changes “were really positive, and so we figured we could even make … better and more effective changes this time,” Barsky said.

As part of the code of conduct review, the University will form a committee next semester that will be in charge of making official recommendations for policy changes to the administration, said Emma Hall ’16, another member of the task force.

The task force plans on meeting with the policy committee once it is formed and has been in discussions with Bita Shooshani, coordinator of sexual assault prevention and advocacy.

Several members of the task force are interested in applying to be student voices on the committee, Barsky said.

In the meantime, the task force is essentially “trying to provide a lot of education and information and research about this, so when the time comes, we can be making recommendations,” Barsky said. The group wants as many voices as possible to be heard, she added.

Carty is working on reaching out to a variety of student groups and collecting anonymous victim testimonies, which could potentially be used as a resource for the review committee, he said.

Some members are conducting research on Title IX, the federal guidelines designed to preserve gender equity in higher education, while others are meeting with the Department of Public Safety to see what DPS’ role in reporting assaults is, Barsky said.

Hall highlighted visibility as another goal for the group. “Honestly, every single person on this campus holds a stake in this issue because every single person on this campus is affected by it to some degree,” she said.

The group has reached out to administrators, including President Christina Paxson, who “specifically expressed this is an issue that’s important to her,” Hall said.

The group hopes “to make the process more illuminated for people,” she added.

One change the group hopes to see is improved training for individuals serving on hearing panels for sexual assault allegations, Barsky said. She cited a specific incident where a victim expressed that members of the panel essentially “slut-shamed” the victim and blamed the victim for the alleged perpetrator’s actions.

The group also seeks to make changes in the time frame for consequences for perpetrators. If the hearing and appeals processes are concluded toward the end of a semester, and the perpetrator is sentenced to a suspension for one semester, it is possible for the person to serve that suspension in the same semester — for an abbreviated period of time — and return the following semester, Hall said.

“Our culture in general is more supportive of protecting perpetrators than it is of protecting victims,” Shooshani said. “A lot of systems are not victim-centered.”

Shooshani sees her goal, as well as the task force’s goal, as listening to what victims want and what would be most important to them, she said.

“This time around, it’s about victim safety and making sure that victims on this campus still feel safe, whether or not they choose to report, and that they will have resources available,” Barsky said.

Though the group hopes to get a few of its members on the review committee, which will be decided in a few weeks, its leaders acknowledged that the process is ongoing and will continue beyond next semester.

“With any issue like this that’s so multifaceted, … you’re always going to be fighting,” Carty said.

“It’s so much more than a number, and it’s so personal,” said Hall. “If we could do our part to make these policies reflective of how much this issue affects individuals’ lives, then I’d say we’ve accomplished something.”

Ultimately, the group wants to make sure that “rape culture is not being codified into our student code of conduct,” Barsky said.

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  1. My Proposed Brown University Sexual Assault Policy:
    1. Call 911
    2. Turn the case over to the US criminal justice system rather than a university justice system

    Universities simply have too much at stake for themselves to ever handle the issue properly in my opinion.

    • The criminal justice system is badly broken, with only 3% of rapists ever seeing a day in jail, and survivors commonly being seen as at fault and feeling re-victimized by the process. I wouldn’t go through the criminal justice system if you paid me.

      • No where did I say the criminal justice system is good. I only said it’s better than a university justice system because the university has a conflict of interest.

        • info narga says:

          And this is not just a logical argument. Brown Deans aid and abet rapists. It is as simple as that. Therefore, Harpo and Lena, I encourage you not to hold any punch. When and where you can use title IX against Brown University and its deans, do so. Encourage the victims to sue the deans personally. Treat the deans as the enemies, because they are.

    • One size fits none says:

      If the victim doesn’t want the criminal justice system involved, your plan will be pretty useless.

      • You’re right, no one should be forced to use the criminal justice system, but I stand by my real point: the university should stay out of it. Would the university handle a homicide internally?

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