First, we would like to emphasize that we do not wish to question, invalidate, or detract from Joanna’s account of her experience with the administration concerning her sexual assault case. Rather, we would like to explain the reporting procedure for incidents of sexual assault on campus in order to ensure that students are aware that, although there is room for improvement, the administrative regulations and protocol for handling matters such as these are, for the most part, beneficial and effective for students who would like to report a case of assault to the University.
In order to ensure that the student body has a comprehensive understanding of the reporting policy on this campus, we would like to outline the actual process of reporting a sexual assault through the university.
A student who decides to file a report of sexual assault has their report handled by one of the Deans of Students and the report is also given to Public Safety. The student writes a statement explaining the situation. Then the accused student is notified by Public Safety of the charges against them, at which point, the accused student is encouraged to write an independent statement. A Dean meets with both students separately to explain to them the details of the process and the different options they have, as well as to simply check in with each of them. Each student is allowed to gather witnesses who can submit written statements to the case file.
The accused student is given two options; they can opt for a judicial conference or a hearing. In a judicial conference, the accused student would be pleading either “Responsible” or “In Violation” to the charges and would then have to accept a punishment from the school. The accused student would be aware of the punishment prior to accepting it. If the accused chooses to plead “Not Responsible” or “Not in Violation,” then a hearing will ensue. The reporting student can decide how present they would like to be for the hearing. There are many options including: being in the room, having a barrier between them and the accused student, or choosing to remain absent from the room in order to ensure they feel comfortable and safe.
The hearing panel consists of five people: a chair of the hearing (usually a Dean of Students who is not a part of the final decision) and four panel members, two men and two women from either the faculty or the staff who have been trained in sexual assault response. The reporting student can read their statement, make any amends to it, and call in their witnesses. The accused student will have the opportunity to do the same. During the hearing, the panel can ask both students and witnesses any questions that they may have. If the reporting student or the accused student so chooses, they can direct questions to the other party through the chair of the hearing. Each student is then given the opportunity to make closing statements. The panel deliberates and notifies each student of the decision and the punishment if the accused is found In Violation. Please refer to the Code of Non-Academic Conduct in the student handbook, or http://www.wesleyan.edu/studenthandbook/3_sexual_misconduct.html for more information.
We feel that this is a fair system and a viable option for any student who wishes to report an incident of sexual assault. It is by no means perfect, but no legal system is. Cases of sexual assault are inherently extremely delicate and difficult cases to resolve especially when one takes into account the complicating factors such as the usual lack of direct witnesses, and the frequent involvement of alcohol or drugs.
There are a few things we would like to stress about these hearings: first, the panel who makes the final decision is made up of two men and two women who are trained in sexual assault response and have handled cases like these before; second, the two Deans of Students are not involved in the decision-making process, but they do take these cases very seriously no matter their gender, and they are very upfront in explaining (in meetings with the Deans and Public Safety) that there is not a guaranteed outcome.
Wesleyan’s administrative procedures for dealing with matters of sexual assault very much resembles an actual trial in which it is up to the petitioner to prove the guilt of the defendant. The administration ensures that there are fair trials, and they ensure that both students’ interests and well-being are looked after. The university is legally obligated to protect both the reporting student and the accused student. Therefore, if they feel that there is not enough testimony or evidence, unfortunately, they cannot proceed with a conviction. However, most cases find the accused to be in violation: this year, three out of four cases have found the accused in violation. The administration takes the task of determining the validity of a claim of sexual assault very seriously and they will not convict a student of sexual assault unless a solid case can be made against them.
We would like to encourage anyone who is thinking about reporting to do so. It is true that one cannot always get the outcome that they want or expect, but filing a report, even if the case does not result in a conviction, is an extremely important step to take and has many benefits. Reporting an incident of sexual assault allows the survivor to stand up for himself/herself and ensure that their voice is heard.
Reporting is not an easy process. It can affect all facets of your life including your schoolwork, your social life, and your mental stability, but there are support systems in place to help survivors through this difficult process. OBHS can help students deal with the emotional trauma of such a significant event. Additionally, Class Deans and/or the Deans of Students can help a student to secure new housing, make arrangements for extensions or incompletes, and help them withdraw from any classes. There is also the option of talking to Liz Krushnic, the current SART intern, who can walk you through the reporting process, the different options available to students, and the various resources to support survivors. We encourage anyone thinking of reporting through the school to talk to Dean Culliton about their options. You do not need to reveal the name of the student you are accusing, but Dean Culliton will have to file an anonymous report after you speak with him. You will not be forced to report the student, reveal their name, or press charges through the school, though. Additionally, reporting an incident of sexual assault to the University is often less intimidating than reporting the case to the Middletown Police, although that is definitely a viable alternative.
We would like to stress that anyone who feels they have been sexually assaulted should get STI testing, pregnancy testing, and/or emergency contraception. Regardless of whether or not someone chooses to report, they should talk to someone about the assault. It is an extremely traumatic experience and it is necessary to speak with supportive people in order to begin the recovery process. It is important to focus on healing and protecting your well-being.
We would like to add that Joanna is now working on a list of demands with other students to facilitate change in the way that sexual assault is conceived and dealt with on this campus. We think this is an important step to take in regards to sexual assault awareness, response, and prevention, as no system is perfect and there is always room for improvement. Students who wish to facilitate change at Wesleyan can join one of the many groups that are working to improve sexual assault response on campus such as: Students for Communication and Consent, Take Back the Night, the Unspeakable Acts orientation committee, and FemNet, to name a few.
It is essential that students know that if they are ever put in a situation in which they feel they have been sexually assaulted that they can go to the administration and seek justice through the channels that the University has set up. It is unfortunate that Joanna does not feel she received justice in her case, but our hope is that we can remind students, should they ever feel unsafe or violated, that the University and the administration are valuable resources who work to maintain not only the safety, but, also, the rights of Wesleyan students.