Forum debates sexual assault policies

An informal discussion last night addressed the University's policy on sexual assault in the wake of public criticism from a parent who alleged that her daughter, a University student, was raped.

Student Council President Daisy Lundy said the idea for the meeting was first addressed several weeks ago.

As a member of Sexual Assault Facts and Education, Lundy said she thinks the University needs to increase its sexual assault education, awareness and resources.

"I was surprised to learn how many people did not realize sexual assault was a problem at the University," Lundy said at the beginning of the meeting.

The discussion focused mainly on University outreach and education.

Participants said they were concerned with student ignorance about what constitutes sexual assault, a term encompassing everything from rape to unwanted sexual advances.

"We need to hold our students to higher standards," Lundy said.

The forum also addressed the University's punishment of convicted sexual offenders.

On a Web site she created Sunday, the mother of a University student who reported her daughter had been raped by another student said the University did not adequately respond to her daughter's accusations.

In a letter she wrote to the University, the mother said she received dozens of e-mails from other students disappointed in the University's treatment of sexual offenders. She posted 12 students' stories on the site.

Claire Kaplan, the coordinator of sexual assault education at the Women's Center, works directly with sexual assault victims and spoke at the meeting.

Kaplan said she meets with students who say they have been sexually assaulted and informs them of their rights and the options available to them. If students do not wish to press charges outside the University, they can pursue both formal and informal resolutions within the University, Kaplan added.

"We try to find the right help for them," she said.

Dean of Students Penny Rue discussed how various options work.

One possibility is informal mediation. Rue stressed that successful mediations are extremely important for rehabilitating the survivor.

One mediation resulted in the perpetrator taking time away from the University until the victim graduated, Rue said. A few others also had positive outcomes.

"We have had about three or four successful mediations," Rue said.

Sexual assault victims also can request a hearing by the Sexual Assault Board, which can result in a number of disciplinary actions, including suspension and expulsion.

However, no one found guilty of sexual assault in the past five years was suspended or expelled.

Many people present at the meeting said the current system is not harsh enough. Sexual assault cases involving acquaintance rape, which comprise most of the cases at the University, are particularly difficult to adjudicate due to a lack of evidence, Rue said.

Rue said the SAB is always an option for victims of acquaintance rape to pursue.

"It is always the choice of the complainant," she said.

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