Systems for Reporting Sexual Assault at Brown

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This is an opinion piece.

Yesterday, UCS held Systems for Reporting Sexual Assault at Brown, an event raising student awareness of Brown’s policies on sexual assault. The event was split into two parts: first, a teach-in on the processes in place for reporting assault and, second, an open forum with the Task Force during which students could recommend changes and openly discuss their concerns.

The teach-in included Bita Shooshani (Coordinator of Sexual Assault Prevention and Advocacy at Health Services), Dean Yolanda Castillo (Office of Student Life), Michelle Nuey (DPS), and Gail Cohee (Director of the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center). Each described their individual place in the reporting process. 

Health Services can help victims upon referrals from Psychological Services or appointments at Health Services. From there, victims will meet with Bita Shooshani, who will inform victims on the decisions that need to be made, namely medical options. Similarly, Shooshani provides a place to file on-campus reports to DPS and speak to officers if a victim chooses to do so; furthermore, Shooshani provides a support system for victims. Victims may also choose to file criminal reports against their assaulters.

These counselors can also help the victims receive accommodations including medical as well as others, such as a no-contact report. Later in the adjudication process, these counselors or other trusted faculty and/or staff can work as an advisor on a hearing case.

The adjudication process begins with gathering statements from both the accused and the accuser. In preparation for the hearing, an advisor will assist both victims and the accused in finding witnesses, preparing questions to ask the accused, and forming statements. Advisors also help the student during the hearing, identifying questions and even acting as a representative for their party if the student chooses.

Hearings usually last a full day and either party can have an attorney present for the purpose of preventing incriminating statements. The hearing is heard by a panel including a member of the faculty, a dean, and a student. Once the hearing takes place, the panel decides and recommends sanctions. These can be appealed by both parties, a recent change to policy. If a student appeals a sanction, an appeal officer will make an individual decision. If a finding is appealed, a new panel will be chosen to conduct a hearing.

During the appeals and hearing process, the accused may remain on campus. In rare cases, students that seem to pose an overwhelming danger will be removed from campus earlier in the process. During hearings, victims may choose to be in a separate room, in which case video chat or telephone is used.

After the teach-in, undergraduate students who chose to remain participated in an open forum with the Task Force, which has been charged with updating and improving sexual assault policies by President Paxson.

What many found so incredulous about the teach-in was that very few had received this information previously. A deep concern was raised during the open forum regarding the availability of these resources and the university making this information accessible. Various changes were suggested. Most recommended this information be mandatorily provided during orientation, while others expressed a desire for yearly and even biannual teach-ins such as the one that preceded the forum.

Likewise, people voiced a desire for better opportunities to identify repeat offenders. An anonymous reporting system seemed to present troubles, such as identifying whether submitters are Brown students. Allowing those who have also been assaulted by a convicted person to act as witnesses rather than having to create their own cases was suggested as a solution.

Most troubling were the revelations on the University’s policies on convicted students returning, particularly while the victim is still enrolled. Many expressed that policies preventing this were necessary. At the very least, commenters recommended that victims be notified if their abusers plan on returning to campus. This is difficult at the present time because the readmission decision does not come in until after the date to take a leave of absence from Brown has passed, leaving victims trapped.

In addition, the appeals process as it currently stands does not have a set time for which the decision must be made. While an appeal is being made, a convicted assaulter who is appealing may stay on campus. Due to the appeal process’ lack of a decision time frame, the attacker could plausibly be on campus for an extended period of time.

Truly showing the gaping holes in the process, the time spent on campus while waiting for an appeal counts towards the convicted person’s time away, detracting their actual sentence.

These issues not only affect the safety and health of the victims, but also the safety of the community at large. Leaving a potential rapist on campus potentially puts many more at risk with studies showing that most rapists are serial rapists and will repeat their actions.

At the close of this forum, it was evident that the Task Force had to make major changes to its current sexual assault policies. Students trust the administration to protect us from threats, whether they be external or internal.

Currently, it is hard to trust the University when it so blatantly does not take all the precautions to protect its students from the threat of these violent acts. Policies should be transparent and truly work to best prevent further offenses. As the Task Force works to formulate new policies, the student body must do all that it can to stress how vital these changes are to the well-being of the community.

More information is available at www.brown.edu/bwell. For the sexual assault response line, call 401-863-6000. To meet with the Coordinator of Sexual Assault Prevention and Advocacy call 401-863-2794, or to meet with the Student Support Services Dean call 401-863-3145 during business hours. Emergency calls to DPS can be directed to 401-863-4111 and non-emergencies to 401-863-3322. More resources can be found here.

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