Campus sexual assault was once a hush-hush topic that was kept within the confines of dorm rooms and behind closed office doors. Today, it's regarded as an epidemic serious enough to garner the attention of The White House. Even with the national attention surrounding the issue, some schools still aren't getting the message, as allegations continue to surface about schools's handling of sexual assault and rape reports.
Recently added to the growing list of 76 schools that the U.S. Department of Education is investigating for violations of Title IX and the Clery Act, is Pace University, due to a recent complaint filed by a student after an incident that allegedly occurred on Valentine's Day this year. The student was notified last month that the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which is handling the other investigations of this nature, is beginning to look into her complaint.
What differs about this report from complaints against other colleges is the action taken by Pace University after the assault. Frequently, reports state that schools will refuse to delve further into an accusation of sexual violence. In this complainant's case, however, it's that an investigation was performed when the victim didn't desire one.
Originally, the victim wasn't seeking an investigation to be brought against her alleged rapist. She wasn't even the one to disclose the incident to the university—the doctor she saw at the school's health center did. At the time, she was unaware that telling the campus health center about the attack was akin to reporting it to the university—she had gone to the health center to be tested for STI's following the alleged incident. To the victim, the national reputation universities have for mishandling allegations of sexual assault was enough for her to stray from further involving herself in the process. "I did not want to report my rapist, because it is a very miserable and tedious process in which the victim rarely gets justice," she told The Huffington Post.
After the attack was reported, she decide to go along with the investigation, in the hopes that it would be handled properly. The Pace University student's experience with campus sexual assault brings a few important points to the forefront of the discussion on sexual assault. First, if schools were to universally handle these sort of allegations properly, a greater number of students would undoubtedly feel more comfortable reporting these instances of sexual violence to campus officials. Second, where is the line for university health center employees when it comes to confessions of this nature: Do their responsibilities as a university employee outweigh the promise of doctor-patient confidentiality?
While the university did take action, it wasn't ultimately fruitful for the victim: Her attacker was found not guilty. Throughout the month-long investigation, the victim claims that she was never approached for in-person questioning. She also did not receive an explanation for the university's decision not to bring charges against her reported attacker. After the inquest, university officials stated that they did not have enough information to punish the alleged assailant. What they did find, was regardless of the details of the night, alcohol was involved. The university then mandated that both the victim and the alleged attacker attend an "training on alcohol and substance abuse, and on date rape."
This situation speaks to numerous problems with the way sexual violence is handled on campuses today. First, a student who has been assaulted should feel that his or her university will support him or her in a time of crisis, so they are compelled to report an assault or rape. But schools should also respect a student's request for privacy in a time of trauma. It's a balancing act of what should be viewed as more pertinent to the health and safety of students: Privacy or the potential for deserved punishment.
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