EDITORIAL: Fully evaluate sexual assault charges
In response to student demands for more effective sexual assault services on campus, most notably through a petition by Brandeis Students Against Sexual Violence, a slew of changes to campus services have been announced for the fall 2014 semester. As outlined by Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel in an email to students on Thursday, the changes include establishing a student-run Rape Crisis Center, creating a new website to increase awareness for sexual assault services and conducting bystander training sessions for staff and student leadership groups, such as community advisors and orientation leaders. This board supports these new preventative measures and services to combat sexual assault on campus. However, we urge administrators and students involved in these services to recognize that sexual assault is an issue as complex as it is personal and emotionally charged; incidents do not always fit a clear, black-and-white narrative of perpetrator and victim, and our campus services must be prepared to handle such cases.
Over the summer break, a student posted a letter he’d received from Dean of Academic Services Lisa Boes on Facebook, which was meant to conclude a sexual assault case the student had filed in January. The letter stated that despite the student’s attacker being found responsible for, among other things, “physical harm, consent and sexual misconduct,” and “lack of consent,” the attacker would receive no punitive measures besides a “disciplinary warning” and an “educational assessment.” Furthermore, the letter was dated May 30, 2014, meaning it took almost six months for the student’s case to be decided, as opposed to the 60 days at most the process is meant to take.
Despite the months-long complaint process, very little is still clear about the case; somehow, both accuser and accused attest to feeling unsatisfied with the conclusion reached by the administration, and this is unacceptable. Moreover, this board wonders how a student can be both found guilty of a “lack of consent” and “physical harm,” yet only be reprimanded with glorified warnings. In the few cases of sexual assault from the past few years whose results this board is aware of, the University has not shown a history of light sentencing. Assuming no ulterior motives on the University’s behalf, we must assume the details or circumstances of this case differentiated this from those preceding. The details of the case imply a lack of a clear answer; there may be gray between the black and white.
Situations like this are likely to occur again in a community as small as ours. And regardless of the verdict, there are complaints from both parties involved that are distressing. Both students reported to multiple news outlets that they were often confused by and unclear on rules throughout the process; the case dragged on for almost three times as long as it should have, according to the guidelines in the 2013 to 2014 Rights and Responsibilities handbook; and the seemingly contradictory ruling and punishment left many questions unanswered. These are issues that contribute to a cultural fear of reporting sexual assault to universities—a fear the University is trying to quell.
When students file sexual assault reports and seek out counseling, they are placing a tremendous amount of trust in the University to handle one of the most heinous crimes of which one can be a victim. The University must make sure that this trust is not misplaced, while also deciphering the hard call to do what is appropriate, and not necessarily popular. As the administration prepares to release an updated community code of conduct with extensive revisions on sections covering sexual misconduct, we hope that the updated policies will improve this crucial process.