Dartmouth College has proposed changes to its sexual assault policy, calling for expulsion in most cases where a student is found guilty of “penetration accomplished by force, threat or purposeful incapacitation or where an assault involving penetration is motivated by bias.” Both Dartmouth and the University of Michigan are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education due to accusations of mishandling sexual assault cases. While the University has made strides in improving its process for investigating and handling sexual assault cases, there remains room for improvement for the punishment for these offenses. The University’s current policy leaves too much leeway in punishing determined offenders, leaving open the possibility of offenders slipping through the cracks or getting off too lightly. The University should consider strengthening the potential punishments for student sexual misconduct and reducing the discretion of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution in assigning these penalties.
According to a Centers for Disease Control study, 19 percent of college women reported experiencing attempted or completed sexual assault during their college career. With sexual violence averages on college campuses higher than the national average, University policy changes need to follow recognition of the problem and adopt stricter punishments similar to those outlined in Dartmouth’s proposal.
A mandatory expulsion policy for sexual assault in the case of sexual penetration ensures that committing a heinous crime means facing a serious punishment. Especially in light of the University’s response to the public disclosure of former Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons’ permanent separation and resulting protest, it is important that the University send a strong signal that sexual assault will be taken seriously on campus. The current wording of the University’s sexual assault policy, using phrases such as “reprimand” and “Potential Sanctions or Interventions,” is too weak.
While it is important that stricter policies be put in place, it is equally important to ensure that they are as supportive and beneficial to the survivor as possible. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, about two-thirds of rapes were committed by someone the survivor knew. The University should keep the “Resolution by Agreement” portion of the sexual assault policy, which allows the Complainant and Respondent to either accept or reject a proposed agreement in regards to what the sanctions or interventions will be regarding their case. This process should be kept so the survivor has input with regards to the punishment the respondent receives. This may include someone who does not want to be responsible for ending someone’s educational career or who wants to take further steps to protect their identities and the identity of the assailant. However, there should be policies in place that to make certain survivor isn’t intimidated or threatened by the assailant or anyone else while this process takes place.
Furthermore, the University needs to refocus on education incoming freshmen about sexual assault. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center’s Relationship Remix, the mandatory program for students living in dorms, should include information about steps to take if you are sexually assaulted. Knowing how to preserve DNA evidence on the body or clothes and knowing who to go to in order to report an assault could ultimately lead to a more successful investigation. Information about counseling and medical services for victims could be life saving. Furthermore, the consequences for being convicted by the courts or found responsible for sexual assault by the University should be presented. Furthermore, the University should call on organizations like SAPAC to help increase education for students on campus about sexual assault. Education will foster cultural awareness and reduce stigma associated with incidences of sexual assault.
The University’s sexual assault policy should be made stricter by incorporating mandatory expulsion for proven assailants. The wording of the policy reflects the severity of sexual assault, signaling appropriate respect for the trauma and long-lasting effects of sexual assault for survivors.