Deans are right about respondents’ rights in sexual assault cases

By India Downes-LeGuin

Deans from all five colleges answered questions about the newly revised 5C sexual assault policy at an event hosted by Scripps’ Sexual Assault Awareness Committee at the Motley Coffee House at Scripps on March 1. The panel caused me to reconsider my initial opinion, shared by many fellow students, that the respondent in a sexual assault investigation should not be afforded a right to face the complainant during judicial proceedings.

The colleges decided to reevaluate their sexual assault policies this year to provide more cohesive procedures across the campuses. This meant revising the language (which many believed to be antiquated) and making sure that policies matched up. One way in which the campuses are implementing this is by using the same trainer for investigations for all of the 5C’s staff; before the reevaluation, faculty from each campus were trained by five separate trainers on how to respond to situations. Now one trainer is used for all faculty in order to ensure cohesive action. And while cases were previously handled only by the home institution of the respondent, now they will be investigated by the home institution of the complainant as well.

Pitzer is changing its policies in two major ways. Prior to reevaluation, only the respondent could appeal if they deemed the verdict unfair. Now, the complainant is free to appeal if they wish as well. I think this was a smart move on Pitzer’s part, as it acknowledges the complexities of many sexual assault cases. Pitzer Dean of Students Moya Carter also talked extensively about new additions to a policy that has caused a lot of concern throughout the reevaluation process: the right of the respondent to face the complainant during judicial proceedings. Carter said the respondent would still retain this right, but that certain restrictions would be exercised depending on the situation. These include holding the session in a very large room so the two would not have to be in close proximity, creating a partition so the two would not have to see one another, and various other limitations.

Many students with whom I have spoken fear for the emotional stability of the complainant, who may experience deep trauma when forced to face the perpetrator of their assault in person.

Prior to hearing Moya Carter talk about this policy and its purpose, I agreed with many students that it was immoral and potentially traumatizing. However, after giving it quite a bit of thought I believe the policy should remain in place, with a couple of exceptions. Ideally, I believe the policy would be stronger if it were more circumstantial. When it comes to sexual assault, every case is going to be different. Some complainants will feel comfortable facing the respondent, maybe even view it as an empowering process. Other will feel victimized. If the administrators were able to balance the emotional needs of the students involved and make the decision to allow or not allow the complainant and respondent in the same room on a case-to-case basis, it would make a lot of students feel more comfortable about Pitzer’s sexual assault policies.

At the same time, I understand that the policy exists to protect the rights of both the students involved, and I see now that the administration takes great measures to ensure the safety and comfort of the students to the greatest extent that it can. Taking all of this into account, I support Pitzer’s decision to uphold this aspect of the policy. That being said, the administration should make sure that all of the students, not just those who attended the 5C Sexual Assault Policy Meeting, are aware of the reasoning behind this decision. I know that if I hadn’t been at the meeting and heard Moya Carter talk about the restrictions, process, and need for the policy, I wouldn’t be supporting it.

Overall, I appreciate and respect the new sexual assault policies. In answering the questions posed by the moderator, the Dean’s seemed to be listening to students and their needs, making sure what they said was clear. These are incredibly important discussions to have, and as a student I felt lucky to witness the process and give my personal input.

Leave a Reply