Friday, October 10, 2014

Sexual Assault on campus (Virginia Wesleyan).

A colleague who received hir Bachelors from the Virginia Wesleyan sent this to me, outraged that something like this happened at hir alma mater. After reading the article, I am nearly speechless with rage myself.
Virginia Wesleyan College found a student responsible for sexual assault, expelled him, then changed his status to "voluntarily withdrawn" to help him get into a new school, according to a lawsuit. The suit, filed by an assault victim under the pseudonym Jane Doe against Virginia Wesleyan, a liberal-arts college associated with the Virginia United Methodist Church in Norfolk, claims the school failed to help the struggling young woman, but took steps to assist her assailant.
How can we let this happen to our students? How can this University justify allowing a student that they found guilty of such a heinous violation of another human being simply "voluntary withdraw" - so he can "seek further studies" at a different institution? When I read that, all I see is so that he can seek further victims at another institution.

Perhaps more importantly, why isn't this nationwide news? Why as a culture do we accept this? And what can we do to stop it?


Contingent Cassandra said...

Why, indeed? In an even more extreme case, it's looking like the suspect in the disappearance of UVA student Hannah Graham and another young woman who disappeared in Charlottesville a few years ago, and was later found murdered, was accused of sexual assault at two different colleges he attended. Of course, he's no longer a student, and he appears to still be preying on students nonetheless (and it would be no better if he were preying on non-students instead*), but denying sexual predators the sheeps-clothing of "fellow student" (or "college graduate"/"professional") seems like a small step in the direction of greater safety.

*While I'm very much in support of increasing safety on college campuses, especially by teaching both male and female students norms for sexual behavior and communication that will serve them well not only on campus, but also in their lives afterward, I do worry a bit that the current discussion about campus safety ignores the fact that all women, of whatever degree of education (or lack thereof), deserve to be safe, wherever they are. Alerting young women (and others) that college campuses aren't necessarily safer than the rest of the world is a good idea, since it can potentially lead to greater safety; any suggestion that campuses *should* be safer than the rest of the world strikes me as inappropriate, since it perpetuates both elitism and the denial of college students' adulthood that we complain about here. Everyone deserves to be safe, period (and, until we reach that goal, everyone needs to cautious, not because they'd be to blame if they came to harm, but because it's smart to take reasonable precautions against forseeable harm).

Monica said...

It's because the student was never convicted by a real court. Therefore, he is legally, if not actually, innocent, and could sue the university. The university is not actively helping him get admitted somewhere else. It is only removing a black mark from his record because it was based on mere accusations that were never heard by a criminal court.

Now, that does not necessarily mean that the student didn't do those things. It's just that it is not up to the university to set up a kangaroo court for criminal cases. As a matter of fact, the university may not even have tried too hard to be fair to the alleged perpetrator. Maybe he was treated mostly as a potential threat to be removed from campus, fairly or not, whether guilty or not, just to be on the safe side. Now that he’s gone, the university is probably trying to minimize legal liability, the risk of retaliation and any new applications or appeals from the expelled student. If he is admitted to another university, he's probably gone for good.

Ogre Proctor Hep said...

If they thought that they would avoid a lawsuit by their actions in this case, they were quite mistaken.

Beaker Ben said...

We often complain that administrators can't manage the basic tasks of running a university. Now we ask them to serve as jury and judge for rapists. That makes no sense at all. I actually feel sorry for them being put in this position. We would not stand for a company or other government agency handling a case of rape themselves so we should not allow universities to do this. After the fiasco at Penn State, I'm surprised that colleges still want to be involved in these situations at all.

I truly sympathize with victims who do not want to get police involved and experience the ordeal of a trial. However, the police, judges and juries at least know what they are doing most of the time. They have experience in these matters and have fewer conflicts of interest that result in protecting the good name of the university. (I wonder in cases like this if the university subtly discourages women from calling the police, telling her that they will handle the matter discretely.)

As Cassandra points out, there's also the issue of the rapist moving to another school without any consequences. This would be less likely to occur if a police record and news stories of the trial followed him around.

Ogre Proctor Hep said...

Agreed. Had the uni kicked the case to the outside legal system, they could base their subsequent actions on that system's findings and thereby appear far less like they acted in their own short-term interest. I might argue that their public image would have even been improved by such handling.

On the flipside, we sometimes hear of unintended results of zero-tolerance policies, like cops hauling away a 6-year-old in handcuffs for being seen with a nail clippers in school. But it still seems reasonable people might agree that there's a broad middle ground in the multi-dimensional space between inaction and over-reaction, and protecting the school, the public, and the alleged victim and perprator.

Contingent Cassandra said...

No question that rape -- and, really, any actual crime committed on campus -- should be handled by the police of the municipality in which the campus is located (and a student who has been raped, by anyone, should call the police and/or head/be directed to the nearest emergency room, not to some college office or functionary -- or such offices or functionaries should be required to pass the case on immediately to regular law enforcement).

But colleges are, indeed, still going to have to deal with the victim who wants to talk to someone, but not the police, and they're going to have to figure out what to do with students who are being investigated as the possible perpetrators of crimes against other students (or who have been arrested but are out on bail, or whatever). I don't think there are any easy answers to what to do in those situations; it seems like either somebody is going to end up transferring, or taking, or being required to take, a leave of absence for a semester or two (which is a very big deal when you're twenty, and the whole structure of your life revolves around going to college, and can also get expensive when you take into account unfinished semesters and credits that don't transfer and the like), or you're going to have a situation that is uncomfortable, distracting, and distressing at best, and downright dangerous/legitimately terrifying at worst, playing out on campus. There are non-campus analogues, of course -- e.g. a crime committed by one coworker on another -- but college does seem like a case involving particular difficulties.

Ogre Proctor Hep said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ogre Proctor Hep said...

All of which underscores the complexity and nuance of the issue. I'm glad that at my joint there are people smarter than I am about these issues. I need to review our policies for what to do if a student comes to me. I do remember that step 1 is not to judge, but to be supportive. Step 2 might involve a call to some campus authority.

Programming Patty said...

No one can force a rape victim to go to the police immediately, or at all. It would be best for all if the police and courts handle violent felonies, but it's the victim's decision, and if he or she prefers not to report to the authorities, then nothing can be done, as university findings of "responsible" or "not responsible" are legally meaningless.