At roundtable, administrators and Ayotte discuss sexual assault

by Madison Pauly | 11/21/14 4:07pm

During informal hearings with sexual assault victims in Washington, D.C., Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and other co-sponsors of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act bill learned that some students felt their institutions failed them.

Since then, the legislators — including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ’88 (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) who introduced the legislation in July, among others — have met with university administrators to talk about the bill’s proposals.

On Friday, Ayotte discussed how Dartmouth handles sexual assault with administrators, locallaw enforcement and students in the Rockefeller Center. Though roundtable participants came to no firm decisions about future action, discussion centered on the need to educate students about sexual assault policies and options for reporting, as well as opportunities for increased collaboration among College staff, Hanover police and WISE.

“It’s a complex challenge,” College President Phil Hanlon said. “We’re here not thinking we have all the answers.”

At the start of the meeting, WISE executive director Peggy O’Neil urged attendees to consider victims’ voices, needs and wishes foremost in their discussions.

“They’re not making it up,” O’Neil said. “They’re not trying to falsely report. They’re not trying to make someone’s lives miserable in the aftermath.”

If approved, the bill would require universities to train relevant staff members, designate “confidential advisors” for students deciding whether to report sexual violence and coordinate with law enforcement to share information and delineate responsibilities for dealing with serious campus crimes crimes.

Student who report a sexual assault would receive amnesty for any misconduct that might come to light in the process of the investigation if the bill is passed.

Law enforcement could probably not promise “blanket immunity,” Grafton County attorney Lara Saffo said, but she added that no student who alleges that he or she was raped would be prosecuted for use of drugs or alcohol.

SPCSA chair Sophia Pedlow ’15 suggested that the bill specify what would be included in this amnesty. Students trust hard policy, not promises, to guide their decisions about reporting sexual assault, Pedlow said.

If passed, the act would require colleges and local police departments to create a “memorandum of understanding” delineating their responsibilities in handling allegations of sexual violence. To ensure compliance, the act would authorize the Secretary of Education to fine the university up to 1 percent of its operating budget.

Pointing to a need for greater trust between students and law enforcement, Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis said the department is considering an “officer liaison” program to connect with student groups to make officers seem more approachable.

O’Neil said that her organization could designate a campus advocate to build relationships withstaff and law enforcement as well as provide an external figure whom students could be sure will keep their report confidential.

Saffo urged the College to partner with WISE, noting that WISE advocates can interact with survivors in a way that is sensitive to different personalities and mental health needs, she said.

The bill would require the Department of Education to conduct a sexual assault survey on all college campuses and publish the results on its website, including data on the number of sexual assault allegations and their context.It also increases institutional sanctions from $35,000to $150,000 per incident of noncompliance in collecting and reporting the data.

Hanlon said the College aims to conduct a sexual assault survey gauging the prevalence of sexual assault and the experiences of victims in April. He added that he is “fully expecting” to release the survey data to campus.

Murylo Batista ’15, Movement Against Violence co-director and a member of SPCSA, praised the legislation’s requirement that the Department of Education release campus-specific data and that institutions partner with law enforcement.

“As a student, this is what I’ve been looking for,” he said.

Batista added that students must internalize policies and resources for legislation to be effective.

Since sexual violence allegations can be handled by an institution, law enforcement or both, the bill aims to ensure any entity involved in a case understands how it will progress,Ayotte said.

Educating students about which College employees will keep the report confidential and which are obligated to inform other staff members is a challenge, Title IX coordinator Heather Lindkvist said.

Students who tell a staff member about a sexual assault can choose not to make a formal report, which would spark an investigation, Lindkvist said. Without making a report, the student can request measures like a housing change, academic accommodations, a no-contact order or simply that an administrator speak to the accused student.

If more than one student accuses the same student by name without making a formal report, the College weighs the students’ wishes with community security, Lindkvist said. If the College investigates the alleged perpetrator, the accusing students can choose whether to participate in the process.

“It’s this balancing act,” Lindkvist said. “If there is a risk to the community, we need to address that risk.”

General Counsel Bob Donin said the College plans to hire a small group of external investigators, including lawyers with experience in law enforcement, and a lead investigator with a background in sex crimes prosecution.

No report filed under Dartmouth’s new sexual assault policy has been investigated by an external investigator, Lindkvist said.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee is reviewing the bill., a non-government website that provides data on pending legislation to promote transparency, rates the bill as having a 1 percent chance of getting past committee and a 0 percent chance of being enacted.

Provost Carolyn Dever, Safety and Security director Harry Kinne and Interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer also attended the meeting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction appended (Nov. 21, 2014):

Only one lawmaker, Ayotte, attended the roundtable, not multiple lawmakers, as the headline originally indicated. The headline has been corrected.

Correction appended (Nov. 24, 2014):

No report filed under the College's new policy has been investigated by an external investigator, according to Lindkvist. The article, which originally indicated that no reports have been filed under the College's new policy, has been corrected.