by Shanna Williams
The Trail headlined an article this week titled “University addresses sexual assault.” The article mentions Green Dot bystander training, a vague overview of what happens when a sexual assault case is reported, and the various dialogues that were held earlier this semester. Unfortunately, the university has yet to address the many and major flaws of the conduct system. There is a serious lack of structure and clarity in the sexual assault and harassment cases handled at University of Puget Sound.
I was recently made aware of a specific sexual assault case that was in the process of investigation. This was the second sexual assault charge pressed against the accused. Last year, the perpetrator was found not guilty of sexual assault, and he received Conduct Level 1 punishment, which merely prevented him from assuming any leadership positions on campus. The conduct and hearing system had failed the complainant, and she no longer attends the university while her attacker does. This year, a second survivor came forward and reported another count against him. This person is a very close friend. She had been through conduct, and was starting the hearing process – which seemed pretty unclear and disorganized. Like any concerned friend and student at the school, I was appalled that there was not more being done. The perpetrator was still thriving in his fraternity, and maintained a work-study job on campus. This didn’t seem right to me at all, and my friend wasn’t thrilled with his Level 1 punishment either. After hearing about this case, I realized that I actually had no idea how the conduct process worked. So I asked my friend to tell me, step by step, how the university handles these types of cases. Yes, I had gone through freshman orientation and been to many sexual assault preventative events and workshops, but I didn’t know the administrative side of things.
This is what I learned: After a sexual assault is reported, based on the situation, the complainant meets with the head of conduct. The complainant writes a statement about what happened, and starts to build a case. Up to this point, the conduct process sounds organized and functional. Now, after conduct is the hearing. The hearing is moderated by a panel, not a judge. The panel consists of three people made up of staff and faculty. The complainant is given a choice to have a student on the panel as well. It is unclear on whether the panel is randomly chosen, or if they are specifically selected. This is what is completely twisted: the accused person can apply for “voluntary immediate withdrawal” any time between being accused to before the hearing starts. Voluntary immediate withdrawal is leaving the school permanently with no trace of the accusation anywhere on their record. In my friend’s circumstance, her rapist could have permanently left the university, transferred to another school, and continued assaulting women. This is a flaw in our conduct system that needs to be fixed.
And that’s not all I learned. Did you know that a student can request a no-contact order against another student? A no-contact order is a type of legal agreement that states that there will be no contact between two students – my friend compared this to a milder form of a restraining order. But this is not something that is taught in freshman orientation so many survivors are unaware that this is even an option. And speaking of freshman orientation, why are some of the sexual assault preventive workshops optional? If administration is so determined to create a safe and nonviolent environment (as reflected by the two emails they sent out this semester), why would preventive programs be optional and not mandatory?
Rape culture thrives on these flawed systems of misconduct. No university wants to deal with being on the cover of a magazine for their mistreatment of and lack of support for survivors (go check out New York Magazine’s issue from September 22: http://columbiaspectator.com/sites/default/files/Sept22-2014Columbia.jpg – Columbia University’s administration is freaking the fuck out), and that’s why mechanisms of escape like voluntary immediate withdrawal exist. Everything gets swept under the rug and no one is assigned blame – what could be wrong with that? Oh right. The survivor is left without any sense of closure or justice, which is seriously emotionally damaging. This failed conduct system delegitimizes rape as a serious problem, and sends the message to sexual assaulters that they can expect a slap on the wrist for destroying someone’s life.
I expect more from this school than rehearsed responses of “we’re doing all we can, I know this is a big problem on college campuses, I understand how frustrating this can be” and of course, the classic “here’s a name of someone you can talk to that can help.” My friend was afraid to be in her own house because she thought her rapist would try to break in while she was asleep. That isn’t okay. Fearing for your life on campus because the school administration isn’t doing enough about sexual assailants isn’t okay. Merely offering a few optional sexual violence prevention workshops isn’t enough. The scarce resources to survivors on campus aren’t enough. The conduct board is failing the students of this university, and I demand that they change the way sexual assault is treated on this campus.