Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

University plans faster, amended sexual assault follow-up process

Emily Sybrant | Student Life
Tentative changes to the university judicial code including the creation of a designated sexual assault review board aim to make the handling of sexual assault complaints swifter and less grueling for students.

In addition to creating a new University Sexual Assault Investigation Board to make the sexual assault investigation process Title IX-compliant, the new statutes would allow sexual assault victims and alleged assaulters separate interviews and keep students from bringing legal counsel to sexual assault hearings.

“This approach, I think, just makes things a little more comfortable if you are bringing a complaint, and also if you find yourself in the position of the respondent,” Sharon Stahl, vice chancellor for students, said. “My hope is that this process will not be as intimidating.”

Under the current statutes in the Washington University judicial code, sexual assault allegations are handled through the university judicial board, a body of up to twenty-five people. Both parties—the complainant and the respondent—are represented by a case coordinator, who is a faculty or staff member responsible for guiding students through the judicial board hearing.

However, arranging a meeting of the many people on the judicial board is often difficult, and the delay between report and hearing produces a lengthy, drawn-out process that is frustrating to all parties involved and in opposition to the Title IX requirement that sexual assault complaints be resolved within sixty days of report. Additionally, the case coordinator model creates a trial-like atmosphere intimidating to both complainants and respondents.

In the interest of expediting the process, a separate board is being formed to handle sexual assault allegations.

At a Student Union Senate meeting on Wednesday night, Sharon Stahl, vice chancellor for students, explained the structure and goals of the new sexual assault investigation board. The board will consist of just three members: one faculty member, one university administrator, and one student. Upon receiving a complaint, the university’s Title IX coordinator will appoint an investigator, who may or may not be a member of the university community.

The investigator will interview both the complainant and respondent, as well as any witnesses, and within fourteen days, will submit a report to the board, which may request additional details or investigation. A final report will be submitted, to which the complainant and respondent may respond in writing.

Over the following fourteen days, the board will then interview the complainant and respondent, and may interview additional parties such as witnesses or the investigator if they deem it necessary. Based on this information, the board will make a decision about whether it is “more likely than not” that the respondent violated the university’s judicial code with regards to sexual assault.

This decision will be made within sixty days of the complaint submission, in keeping with the Title IX requirements.

Stahl said the proposed new statutes aim to make the process less adversarial by regulating the advisors which complainants, respondents, or witnesses can have present. Under the current statutes, students can bring an individual with them to the hearings for support. In the past, many students have chosen in the past to bring legal counsel with them, though the judicial board hearing is technically separate from any legal action the complainant chooses to pursue.

Under the new statutes, students cannot bring lawyers or attorneys to meetings with the board to act as legal representation. Additionally, any advisor a student does bring cannot contact the board or the investigator while the complaint is pending.

Senators seemed to support the creation of the sexual assault investigation board, although they were not able to vote on the statutory changes that night.

“I definitely heard student complaints about the old system,” SU senator and junior Leigha Empson said. “People were saying [the judicial board process] was taking way too long…I’m optimistic that these changes will make the process way faster for people.”

CORE and SARAH also heard a presentation about the board’s formation, and their members were generally in favor of the changes.

“I think the new system is really beneficial because it might encourage people to report more than they have. The rates of reporting of sexual assault are so low at Wash. U., as well as at many other universities, so I think it’s a really good thing that [the process] is changing,” said Kate Cygan, a junior and member of CORE.

Cygan also commended the new process for not forcing the complainant and respondent to face one another directly.

“The [old] process…made the survivor and their aggressor sit in the same room, very close to each other through this really hard process, so it clearly wasn’t ideal.”

With additional reporting by Alex Leichenger.

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  • Anon says:

    University judicial procedures are kangaroo courts and should be illegal. There’s a criminal justice system for a reason.

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  • tyciol says:

    “students cannot bring lawyers or attorneys to meetings with the board to act as legal representation”

    Gee, what could go wrong?

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  • Concerned Citizen says:

    Imagine you’ve been accused of conduct that would constitute a felony in just about any jurisdiction in the country. How would you feel if you were convicted, considering that: 1) your case began with an investigator interviewing you (without counsel) and then interviewing whoever s/he wanted and investigating whatever evidence s/he desired, with no rules governing what is relevant/admissible and what is not, no chance for you to question the person accusing you, and no right for you to even know what evidence was considered until the investigator issued his/her report; 2) after giving you a chance to challenge the report in writing (and I’m SURE those written objections will get serious/thoughtful consideration…), your fate was decided by a panel of three people with no legal training whatsoever (one of whom is an undergrad); and 3) you only had one chance to address said panel in an interview, again without counsel and again with no way of challenging anything they rely on after the interview takes place in making their decision. Now imagine how you’d feel if your attacker was acquitted under the same set of procedures. These reforms will do nothing to make your school’s sexual assault policy more effective or more “comfortable” for those involved. All these so-called reforms will do is make adjudication of sexual assault more prone to arbitrariness, inconsistency, and unfairness for either the accused student or the complainant depending on who happens to be on the panel by stripping away any pretense of procedural accountability. The fact that anyone thinks these changes are a good idea is terrifying.

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    • Terri says:

      I agree with concerned citizen, except to note that the “complainant” in these cases are victims of felony crimes. I would list their concerns first. Why do University’s insist on continuing to attempt to address felony crimes outside the criminal justice system? Baffling.

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      • Yup says:

        I think this is the larger issue here. I’m sure WashU is doing it to protect its image and whatnot, but if the university thinks that there is even the possibility that a violent crime has been committed, it has a moral obligation to report that to the judiciary.

        I think it’s repugnant that they should be allowed to sweep such things under the carpet, and it shows that victims should not go to the university for help until after they have contacted the proper authorities.

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      • Dora says:

        No, technically they are complainants or alleged victims. Calling them victims prior to a resolution of the case presumes guilt on the part of the accused, and like it or not, some rape complaints are untrue.

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  • One in four says:

    According to the FBI, less than 2% of sexual assault cases are falsely reported, a similar percentage to other felonies. Further, sexual assaults are VASTLY underreported, as indicated by surveys both on campus and nationally. Look into the statistics. When someone is robbed, no one calls that person an “alleged victim,” when someone is shot, no one calls that person an “alleged victim.” Sexual assault cases should be no different.

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    • Innocent Until Proven Guilty says:

      It doesn’t matter if 2% or 99% of sexual assault cases are falsely reported; neither does it matter, for purposes of assigning guilt in a sexual assault case, how many sexual assaults are unreported

      You’re right about putting alleged in front of “victim.” I got a little carried away; however, I think that in a context like this, where a judicial body is assessing guilt, we should drop language like “victim” and “aggressor” (alleged) altogether, and stick to the neutral terms of “plaintiff” and “defendant.” It’s important that we be fair and balanced, and when we start referring to one party in a legal proceeding as the victim, and another as the alleged assaulter, we throw that out the window.

      I stand by what I said about Kate Cygan’s quotation, which I think reflects an atrocious view to take toward any judicial system regarding any crime. Even outside of the judiciary, to make the assumption that the plaintiff (for lack of a better term) is ALWAYS a survivor, and that the defendant (again, for lack of a better term) is ALWAYS guilty of sexual assault is fairly horrifying. Guilt, innocence, and truth-telling should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

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      • Bet this works in real life. says:

        Next time someone tells me something bad happened to them, I’ll be sure to say, “Well, I’d offer you my support, but you’re just a plaintiff until this is all settled in court.”

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        • IUPG says:

          Ah, well that’s the difference. My friend telling me s/he was sexually assaulted is worlds away from a court setting. I am thankful that the legal process is much less colored by emotion than are my personal relationships.

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          • funnyfaceking says:

            and a world away from publishing same in the newspaper

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          • Bet this works in real life. says:

            The responsibility of the judicial system isn’t at issue; you’re the one who stated that outside the judiciary, you want everyone to follow that same rule of case-by-case judgment. It seems like you would like to assume innocent until proven guilty and also lying until proved otherwise, because it’s not like we can give the plaintiff the benefit of the doubt either, just the defendant.

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    • tyciol says:

      Sexual assault cases should be different because they lack obvious evidence like a gunshot wound to prove that it occured.

      I believe ‘alleged’ should apply in cases of theft though, since people can lie about theft or vandalism to collect insurance money, or to harm someone they gave it to.

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    • Dora says:

      Why do people keep touting out this garbage? I guess it’s true what they say when you repeat a lie often enough…

      The FBI does not say, and has never said, that only 2% of sexual assault reports are false. That 2% figure has been bandied about for decades despite being based only on the opinion of a female NYPD detective who gave out the figure in a presentation to local legislators in the 1970′s. it’s not based on any study or survey. The FBI actually reports that 8% of rape reports are deemed “unfounded” by police, but even that’s not analogous to a study on actual rates of false reporting.

      The truth is that no one really has any idea how common false rape accusations are, but most credible studies put it in the 8-15% range. I really wish feminists would stop lying about this issue with their fake statistic. That 2% figure is based on absolutely nothing, and it has nothing to do with the FBI. Lying like this only serves to undermine your credibility and does nothing to advance your cause.

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  • Innocent Until Proven Guilty says:

    “the new statutes would allow sexual assault victims and alleged assaulters”

    I think you mean ALLEGED sexual assault victims. Unless the implication is that we should accept that everyone who reports being sexually assaulted actually has been, and may just be misidentifying their assaulter? I understand that false claims are (allegedly; I’ve never seen the numbers) low, but that doesn’t mean that we should drop the “alleged” in front of “victim” until we positively know a crime has been committed. See the Duke lacrosse team.

    “The [old] process…made the survivor and their aggressor sit in the same room…”

    Aha, so now we’ve dropped the “alleged” altogether. Everyone who claims to have been sexually assaulted has unquestionably been, and everyone who is accused by an alleged victim of sexual assault unquestionably is guilty. Fantastic.

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    • anonymous says:

      It looks like the issue with the first quote was already resolved in another comment, but in the second quote, that’s not from the author of the article or any university authority, it’s from a student who was interviewed and who was giving their personal opinion. they can use whatever words they want to.

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