Cam­pus as­saults stir de­bate on when to alert stu­dents

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

When a stu­dent ath­lete at San Jose State University in Cal­i­for­nia was ac­cused of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing two women at an off-cam­pus party over La­bor Day week­end, school of­fi­cials acted de­ci­sively. The stu­dent was or­dered to stay away from the women in­volved and was moved from his dorm into a staff hous­ing fa­cil­ity. He was also tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended from cam­pus and team events pend­ing the re­sult of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

University of­fi­cials also acted qui­etly, prompt­ing many stu­dents to ask why they were kept in the dark about the al­leged as­saults. Fu­el­ing the crit­i­cism, the sus­pect iden­ti­fied as an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent - left the coun­try as au­thor­i­ties in­ves­ti­gated. The case has re­newed fo­cus on the prob­lem of sex­ual as­saults in­volv­ing col­lege stu­dents and raises ques­tions about what obli­ga­tions a university has to in­form stu­dents and when it’s time to go pub­lic about an al­leged as­sault.

University of­fi­cials and le­gal ex­perts say it’s a del­i­cate is­sue. On one hand, stu­dents have an in­ter­est in know­ing im­me­di­ately if a per­pe­tra­tor is on their cam­pus. But schools also need to pro­tect stu­dents’ pri­vacy be­fore an ar­rest is made or charges filed. One pro­posed so­lu­tion is for schools to no­tify stu­dents of sus­pected as­saults in po­lice-blotter style, with­out di­vulging de­tails that could iden­tify sus­pects or vic­tims.

San Jose cam­pus pres­i­dent Mary Pa­pazian ad­dressed stu­dent con­cerns in an email sent Mon­day to the university’s 35,000 stu­dents and 5,000 fac­ulty and staff. “I am de­ter­mined to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to en­sure that SJSU is a safe, car­ing, in­clu­sive com­mu­nity,” she said. “We will look com­pre­hen­sively at how to im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

No­ti­fi­ca­tion poli­cies

The school has said the male stu­dent was im­me­di­ately in­ter­viewed by po­lice and school of­fi­cials. Since no ar­rests have been made and the Santa Clara County District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice is still re­view­ing the case for pos­si­ble charges, the school felt there was no im­mi­nent safety threat to the cam­pus com­mu­nity. Still, given the stu­dent con­cerns, the university will re­view the way it re­sponds in sex­ual as­sault cases. “I be­lieve it is time to re-ex­am­ine and con­sider changes to no­ti­fi­ca­tion poli­cies,” Pa­pazian said. The case fol­lows the high-pro­file trial of for­mer Stan­ford University ath­lete Brock Turner, who was con­victed of at­tack­ing a woman while she was passed out near a trash bin on cam­pus in Jan­uary 2015. Turner’s six­month prison sen­tence sparked na­tional out­rage and ig­nited a de­bate about cam­pus rape and the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

The Cal­i­for­nia State University sys­tem, which in­cludes San Jose State and 22 other cam­puses, has no sys­temwide pol­icy on no­ti­fy­ing the cam­pus com­mu­nity about al­leged as­saults. But the schools ad­here to the fed­eral Clery Act, which re­quires uni­ver­si­ties to is­sue “timely warn­ings” of sit­u­a­tions seen as a threat to the cam­pus, said Toni Molle, spokes­woman for the Cal­i­for­nia State University sys­tem. The de­ci­sion of when to is­sue warn­ings is up to each cam­pus. The Stan­ford case did not be­come pub­lic un­til Turner was charged, said Stan­ford law pro­fes­sor Michele Dauber, who fa­vors some pub­lic dis­clo­sure early on af­ter as­saults are re­ported.

“As long as stu­dent pri­vacy is pro­tected, schools should err on the side of greater trans­parency and is­sue the timely warn­ings,” said Dauber, a friend of the woman Turner as­saulted who has been out­spo­ken against the judge’s sen­tenc­ing. Fam­i­lies Ad­vo­cat­ing for Cam­pus Equal­ity, which works on be­half of stu­dents ac­cused of as­sault, says it’s im­por­tant not to name names pre­ma­turely. “I think it’s OK for a cam­pus to no­tify in the ab­stract. Take more pre­cau­tions, say there’s been a re­port,” said Cyn­thia Gar­rett, a co-pres­i­dent at the group. “But to put some­body’s name and face out there, you need to be pretty sure some­thing has hap­pened. Imag­ine if you’re in­no­cent. Just imag­ine, how that could ruin a life.”

Most uni­ver­si­ties will wait un­til there is a clear pub­lic safety is­sue to sound an alarm. But pub­li­ciz­ing an as­sault could lead more vic­tims to step for­ward, says Fa­tima Goss Graves, an at­tor­ney at the Washington DC-based na­tional Women’s Law Cen­ter. In San Jose, one of the women came for­ward im­me­di­ately, and the sec­ond woman waited two weeks.

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