Verbum Ultimum: An Accessible Option
This week, investigators from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights visited campus as part of a Title IX investigation into the College’s campus climate surrounding sexual assault. Unlike other campuses’ Title IX investigations, this was initiated by the Department of Education. The visit follows a spring 2013 Clery Act complaint in which students and alumni alleged violations related to sexual assault, LGBTQ discrimination and hate crimes.
We believe that students, alumni, faculty and staff should take the opportunity to examine the areas in which the College could better provide services and support to individuals who have been sexually assaulted.
It is unacceptable that Dick’s House, the only 24-hour health care provider within walking distance of campus, lacks the capability to collect evidence after a sexual assault. Survivors must choose between forgoing evidence collection or traveling to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, which is equipped to collect evidence. While Safety and Security officers can provide rides to DHMC, they are not a confidential resource to survivors. Unlike Safety and Security, DHMC and Dick’s House may not share information without written consent.
DNA evidence must be collected within 24 to 48 hours after an assault, and the survivor cannot shower beforehand. Dick’s House’s inability to collect evidence, then, is a major barrier for survivors who are already under extraordinary stress. These resources should be available in any medical facility that sees sexual assault survivors, but especially on a college campus, where the incidence of rape is high.
According to a recent White House report on sexual assault, one in five American women has been sexually assaulted while in college (and there are, of course, male survivors as well). In spite of this statistic, the Committee on Standards adjudicated just 26 cases of sexual assault between 1998 and 2008.
Underreporting sexual assault is a national problem not unique to Dartmouth. However, making the option of collecting evidence more readily available could perhaps lead more survivors to choose to pursue a hearing because the trial would not be based solely on testimony.
Moreover, forensic evidence could help standardize COS hearing outcomes. In those 26 cases, the individuals found responsible faced sanctions that ranged from expulsion to one- to six-term suspensions to probation.
Collecting evidence is the survivor’s choice, but it should be a more accessible option for those who desire it. Putting evidence collection capabilities into the hands of Dick’s House providers — who are often the first to see those who have been assaulted — is the right thing to do.