Nelson discusses sexual abuse cases

by Jeffrey Tanenhaus | 11/13/98 6:00am

Acting Dean of the College Dan Nelson who chairs the Committee on Standards explained its involvement and sanctions policy in sexual abuse cases with about 40 people gathered at the Sigma Delta sorority last night.

"The COS is obliged to presume that [violators] who are informed of potential conduct cases are innocent," Nelson said. "The standard for finding students responsible is on a preponderance of evidence, meaning that more likely than not the injustice occurred."

The Committee, chaired by the dean of the College, considers incidents of serious misconduct -- such as sexual abuse cases and violations of the Academic Honor Principle. Nelson also discussed the influence of alcohol in sexual abuse situations.

"Consumption doesn't excuse misbehavior; alcohol is not a mitigating circumstance," he said.

Nelson also spoke about the Committee's view that sex is a consensual behavior, in which the degree of inebriation is a factor of consent.

The Committee, Nelson said, when applicable, looks at "'drunk' as an elastic term" and attempts to discern the details of how much alcohol was consumed and its effects on those involved.

According to the Committee on Standards' Annual Report, there is a wider range of possible penalties for students who violate sexual abuse rules than for students who violate the Academic Honor Principle.

In response to this, Nelson said, "the determination of appropriate sanctions depends upon specific facts of the case, and the cases of sexual abuse the Committee receives are not the most obvious cases."

Nelson cited examples of intercourse with an unconscious person and a person jumping out of a bush with a knife as clearly defined cases of rape and sexual abuse.

He said that he wishes more victims of clear-cut sexual abuses cases would report the incidents to the Committee. He said he is looking for ways to convince victims to come forward.

Nelson also discussed the varying conditions for permanent separation from the College as compared to suspension for a number of terms.

In the questions session, the issue of mandatory counseling after a violation arose. Nelson said no counseling is currently required because there is a lack of evidence that counseling alters such behavior.

Despite this, "a conversation with a senior dean about the College's standards and behavior that would be unacceptable" is required of all violators, he said.

Abby Gaunt '00 said, "it is encouraging to see the genuine concern of the administration and their willingness to listen to the problem that women feel uncomfortable to come forward."

Nelson said "students ought to know how the judicial system works because it is important to have a degree of confidence in the system since it affects all."