Jonathan Kamens asks:
In the news today is yet another story of a woman being raped on campus (this time at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York), reporting the rape to the college rather than the police, and being victimized again as a result. This is hardly the first instance of this, and unfortunately it won’t be the last. This is happening daily at campuses across the country, including in Massachusetts (e.g., a brutal, detailed narrative of such an incident at Harvard was recently published, after which several other women went public with similar Harvard stories). It is an ongoing tragedy of shocking proportions.
What I don’t understand is this: why are colleges and universities even ALLOWED to internally adjudicate potentially criminal acts? Why aren’t they required to report these incidents to law-enforcement authorities, so that they can be investigated and (when appropriate) prosecuted within our justice system, which doesn’t have a vested interest in downplaying the crimes and blaming and shaming the victims?
It is well past time for there to be laws on the books prohibiting colleges and universities from internally adjudicating potentially criminal acts, as well as permitting victims of such crimes to sue for, and collect, statutory damages when colleges and universities fail in their duty to report.
If there are not such laws already in Massachusetts, then we should lead the nation in passing them and protecting victims of crime on campus from being victimized again by their academic institutions.
Will, what do you say?
Great question. It does sound like the situation merits legislative action. We don’t have our minds around it yet. It’s not something that is going to get a major legislative response in this session, but I agree it merits legislative attention. I will be studying this further over the next few months after the session winds down — I would definitely welcome thoughts as to how to proceed in the coming session.
10/16/15 provided by Anne Johnson Landry, Committee Counsel and Policy Advisor:
Senator Brownsberger filed legislation this session to enable the development (through the establishment of a task force dedicated to the task) and administration of a campus climate survey at university campuses in Massachusetts to gather more data about the lived experiences of college students relating to the following: (i) the incidence and prevalence of sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking; (ii) students’ knowledge of institutional policies and procedures; (iii) if victims reported the violence, to whom did they report, what response did they receive, and were they were informed of, or referred to, local, State, on-campus, or national resources; (iv) contextual factors, such as whether force, incapacitation, or coercion was involved; (v) demographic factors that could be used to identify at-risk groups; and (v) whether the assailants were students. The Senator developed the legislation in collaboration with students at Harvard’s Institute of Politics’ Policy program. The bill was heard in June by the Joint Committee on Higher Education, which has given us favorable feedback.
I agree that it is unacceptable for colleges and universities to investigate on their own such serious crimes as rape. They should be required to report any notification of a rape or assault having been committed to the local police. Certainly a murder or a robbery would be handled by the police. There is no reason, other than protecting the college’s image, for rape or sexual assault not to be treated like the serious crime that it is.
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