On April 10, the Sexual Assault Oversight Committee (SAOC) presented a new sexual misconduct policy to the Student Government Association (SGA). This presentation was part of SAOC’s attempt to get student feedback on the policies they hope to implement in Fall 2011.
“There is no question that the small number of cases that are officially reported each year does not tell the whole story,” said Karen Guttentag, associate dean of the College and chair of the SAOC.
SAOC members believe it is important to work transparently to create policies that are sensitive towards the anxiety students feel when involved in sexual assault cases. Thus, there are many changes on the docket.
A major change will be the disposal of required in-person hearings before a board of eight people. This situation can be unsettling for students who do not feel comfortable sharing their story with a large group of strangers.
Instead of eight-person hearings, a professional investigator will meet with the complainant, respondent and witnesses in one-on-one meetings. The investigator will be trained in sexual assault issues and will present the case to the board members of SAOC who will request further investigation or make a decision on the case. If they wish, those involved will be able speak to the board members but they will not be required to do so.
“What we do not want is a re-victimization of a person who has already experienced an incredibly traumatic sexual assault, and I think the new process will help prevent this,” said Sophie Morse ’11, an unofficial member of SAOC who has been deeply involved with the issue of sexual assault at the College.
Another important change would be the disposal of sexual assault categories. Currently, if the sexual assault involved penetration it is in a different category than assault which did not. Getting rid of these categories would assure that other sexually violating actions, such as filming without the knowledge of the sexual partner, would be reviewed with equal importance as those assaults involving penetration.
Furthermore, a subcommittee of SAOC is proposing that the College create a 24-hour emergency hotline for students. This hotline would be run by a trained confidential group of students. This line would be open for both crises and non-crises.
“Our hope is that with streamlined and improved advocacy, students will know exactly where to turn for immediate support,” said Elizabeth Karnes Keefe, the assistant dean of the Language Schools and member of the SAOC.
Because sexual assault at the College is under-reported, it is hard to determine the prevalence on the campus. The members of SAOC agree that the College is not disengaged from sexual assault, as it is a worldwide problem.
In a national study, the Department of Justice found that one in five women and one in 16 men would experience, attempt or complete sexual assault during their college years. Guttentag believes that these rates are applicable to Middlebury students.
With these policy changes, the members of SAOC hope that students will be more apt to report sexual violations.
In the weeks to come SAOC will meet with other student organizations to implement an effective new sexual assault misconduct policy. But their work, which started two years ago, is not yet done and no policies are set in stone.
“I think that the apathy of the students in regard to this issue is the biggest problem,” said Morse. “I encourage students to give feedback and participate. One way to do so is through their SGA members, who are familiar with the new policy.”