Sexual abuse expulsion is College first

by Julia Levy | 11/13/00 6:00am

Last year, Dartmouth's Committee on Standards permanently separated a student for sexual abuse for the first time -- marking a "landmark" for the College, according to Coordinator of the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program Susan Marine.

The 1999-2000 annual COS report says the student was "found responsible for engaging in intimate sexual contact with two different individuals without either woman's consent."

Although no penetration or intercourse occurred in either case, the COS "was concerned about the repeated behavior and what it perceived as the student's lack of candor and awareness of the seriousness of the behavior."

Marine -- who usually advises the accusers during COS hearings -- expressed faith in the decision and said "sexual abuse is violating and dangerous and harmful no matter what form it takes." She suggested that the community should be "less rigid" and more careful before it indiscriminately deems cases of rape as "terrible" and all other cases of sexual abuse as less harmful.

"Until it happened, we didn't really know if the COS would separate anyone," she said. "They seemed much more inclined to give students lengthy suspensions instead of separate them."

Undergraduate Judicial Affairs Officer Marcia Kelly said this case marked a precedent for the COS, but she said she could not predict whether it would lead to similar punishments in the future.

"I think those cases are so hard to compare," she said. "It's not like comparing apples and oranges. It's like comparing apples and planets."

Marine said the landmark COS decision -- although an important step -- would probably not act as a deterrent for possible future offenders.

Two other students were suspended for sexual abuse last year. Alcohol use played a heavy role in both incidents. One, who was found responsible for engaging in sexual intercourse with a female student, following a "long and intense period of consensual, intimate sexual activity" was suspended for two terms.

The other male student, who was suspended for four terms, claimed that the woman was a "willing and enthusiastic partner," according to the COS report. However, the female student said she "clearly articulated" her desire not to have sex or oral sex.

Kelly said reported cases of sexual assault fluctuate year to year, depending partially on campus "folklore" on campus, and reported that judging punishments usually comes down to a "he said, she said" situation.

Concurrently with the COS report, students received Marine's annual SAAP report that gives the statistics from Aug. 1999 through Aug. 2000 in their Hinman Boxes.

The report -- which lists the numbers of rapes, attempted assaults, incidents of unwanted sexual contact and abuse on a yearly basis going back to 1996 -- is unique to Dartmouth.

Federal law only mandates that the College release statistics on the number of incidents reported to the Department of Safety and Security and to the Hanover Police. It does not require reports like the ones produced by SAAP or the COS.

"I've never known any other college to put out a report like this," Marine said, describing the amazement of colleagues at other institutions who hear about Dartmouth's explicit and open SAAP report.

"They think that it's just incredibly brave," Marine said, explaining that the report leads to heightened awareness and increased discussion of the issues. There have been slight fluctuations over the past five years in reported incidents, and this year's number of cases is slightly lower than last year's, but the statistics do not show any discernable upward or downward trends.

From August 1999 to August 2000, there were 21 reported cases of sexual assault or rape, down five from last year's 26 cases. There were four incidents of attempted sexual assault or rape this past year, up one from last year, 17 reports of unwanted sexual contact and three cases of relationship domestic abuse.

As the report notes, the statistics it includes are based on the number of confidential reports of sexual abuse reported by students and others, such as deans, coaches, counselors and residential life staff. The statistics do not include incidents that occur while students are off campus or before they matriculate at the College.

Also, the report does not necessarily include the cases that are reported in the Annual Security Report or in the annual Committee on Standards Report.

This discrepancy stems from reporting options. Some victims choose not to report cases at all. Others go exclusively to SAAP. Some go directly to deans or the Undergraduate Judicial Affairs Officer to initiate disciplinary proceedings. Still others go directly to the Hanover Police, to initiate criminal proceedings.

Although Dick's House alerts all students who report to SAAP to the other reporting options, few students actually file official complaints.

Marine said students typically cite concerns that Safety and Security will not maintain confidentiality when they decide not to make official complaints. However, she said she is confident that Safety and Security does protect privacy.

According to Marine, this year's slight drop in total reports to her office could stem from a drop in actual cases or a drop in reported cases.

"The numbers only represent what they represent," she said. "At least those 47 students sought help last year, beyond that, it's hard to draw any conclusions about what those numbers mean."

Marine said the report will continue being published annually -- even though she left the College last week.