Thursday, October 02, 2008

University Of Iowa Handling Of Rape Allegations Highlights Why SAFER Database Is Needed

Before I get to the problems in the University of Iowa's handling of a rape report by a student athlete, I want to highlight the SAFER Campus College Sexual Assault Policies Database:

We believe better policies are fair and easy to understand, accessible to all students, have student input and formal oversight, and offer prevention education, crisis intervention, and long-term counseling. SAFER has not tried to create a model policy for every campus because every campus community is unique, but these are the basic elements with which every policy should start. Students can search the database to see how their school measures up according to these criteria. Signs that a school is taking the problem seriously are a dedicated full-time staff person, mandatory prevention education for all students, and services like emergency contraception and HIV prophylaxis available on-campus.

If your college or university's policy isn't yet included, please help make this database more complete. For those who find your college's sexual assault policy in this database, but find it confusing or problematic -- such as allowing those with no training to investigate rape reports -- that's good information to have and can be a catalyst for change.

For those who are deciding what college to attend next year, or what college your child should attend, these policies provide important insight into attitudes and effectiveness related to sexual violence.

To see what can go wrong when a university has a flawed sexual assault policy, just look at the University of Iowa's handling of a report of rape by a student athlete. The findings of an independent review led to the firing of Phillip Jones, the vice president of student services, and Marcus Mills, the university's general counsel.

From The Chronicle:

Shock waves continue to buffet the University of Iowa over a case of alleged sexual assault. Sally Mason, the university’s president, met today with Iowa’s Board of Regents and apologized for the university’s handling of the alleged 2007 assault on a female student by two Iowa football players. [...]

Ms. Mason apologized to the alleged victim and her family for the university’s response. University officials followed established rules, she said, but those policies were flawed. The regents issued a resolution today directing Iowa’s public universities to conduct a comprehensive review of their procedures related to sexual assault.

Too often when a rape case has been mishandled this way, the statement that all policies were followed would be the end of the college's response. When that happens then the college is promising only more of the same.

The first report by Tom Evans issued in June essentially did just that. But a month later the victim's family's letters were made public and about a week after that the U of I regents authorized a special counsel to investigate the university's response and actions.

I encourage everyone to read the special counsel report (pdf). There are too many failures to list them all here, but one which was especially appalling was the delay in informing this rape victim that a second football player had been implicated in the rape.

The now fired VP had the authority to remove the 2 suspects from the dorm where the victim lived and chose not to do so. He also responded inadequately to a report that the victim was being threatened by other students and failed to enforce the university's anti-retaliation policy.

The now fired general counsel placed himself in a liaison position between the university and the family of the victim which created a conflict of interest.

Only one U of I employee in a position of leadership was singled out in a completely positive way and that was Betsy Altmaier, Faculty Athletic Representative to Big Ten Conference & NCAA.

Effective policies for how sexual assault reports are handled are important, but just as important is a system which communicates clearly to all students prior to day one on campus what the school's code of conduct is regarding sexual activity. Assuming that all incoming students understand the law or ethics is a serious error on the part of administrators.

The first weeks of college are the most dangerous for both first and second year students. In the SAFER statements about what makes a good sexual assault policy, prevention is a key element.

The problem of sexual violence is compounded if students use alcohol or other drugs as a tool used to suppress another student's ability to say no or to suppress a student's ability to testify with certainty about what was done to her/him when incapacitated.

These students are putting other students' lives in danger whether they are spiking drinks or pushing others to consume more than they choose to do on their own. A young man who uses his own metabolism to justify what he's pushing on a college woman may be pushing a lethal dosage.

As someone who could have died from alcohol poisoning at age 16 thanks to having booze poured down my throat, I know that the risk of death is real. If 2 compassionate bystanders hadn't taken me to the ER where my stomach was pumped, I almost certainly wouldn't be here today. So I know that the risk of death is real.

Too often bystanders decide to let someone in that condition sleep it off and that person never wakes up.

Hat tip: SAFER

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:05 AM   0 comments links to this post


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