A Message to Parents & Families About Sexual Assault
Dear Goucher Parents and Families,
As fellow parents and family members of college students, we would prefer never to have to deal directly with sexual assault. While we believe deeply that Goucher’s Community Principles inform everything we do and that no place has a stronger commitment and ability to change our own culture at every level, we also know sexual assault occurs on every campus. We’d like to share with you what we are doing every day to keep your student safe, as well as to identify and act upon areas for improvement in our approach.
First, it is important to clear up a common misconception: Colleges cannot simply refer all sexual assault cases to the police. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) made it clear that higher education institutions are required to provide students with a confidential adjudication process, internal to the college, as an alternative to criminal prosecution. The OCR also mandated that colleges are required to use the standard of “preponderance of evidence” instead of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is used in the criminal justice system.
Quite a lot has been written about the intention and consequences of having this dual system. But the result is that if a student is assaulted on our campus, she or he has the choice whether to pursue a criminal complaint, file a formal complaint under Goucher’s sexual misconduct policy, do both, or do neither. It is very unusual for students to file criminal complaints in these matters; most decide either to file a complaint through Goucher’s process, or, unfortunately, not to report the incident to anyone. Our local police department will accept only those criminal complaints filed by students; Goucher cannot file a complaint on their behalf, although the college can provide assistance to a student who chooses to file a complaint. Thus, at Goucher, we are doing everything we can to increase the reporting of these incidents to the administration so we can provide resources and support to victims and make our campus safer.
These federal recommendations and mandates are a call to each and every college and university to be innovative, to be committed, to engage in complex conversations, and ultimately, to change campus culture and work toward a violence-free community. We are dedicated both to preventing and responding to sexual misconduct that occurs in our community. We know it is difficult to measure the prevalence of sexual assault; various studies have attempted to measure the occurrences of these incidents, but some of them differ greatly in their outcomes due to variances in reporting methods and populations studied.
Also, although the number of assaults reported to the administration has increased on campuses, including Goucher’s, this does not mean the number of assaults has increased. During a recent on-campus training, we were reminded that more reporting of assaults and education of students about this problem often means students feel more comfortable reporting, and this can be an indicator of a healthier campus climate. In the spring 2015 semester, Goucher will be conducting a voluntary climate survey, strongly recommended by the federal government, that will help us to better understand where we are on these issues and what steps we need to take moving forward.
In the last few years, and particularly in the last year, Goucher has continued to focus on the issue of sexual misconduct in many ways, from providing support to our students to developing strong policies and implementing comprehensive education programs. In particular, Goucher’s consent policy, adopted in 2010, is one of the clearest policies in the nation. It requires that students initiating sexual activity must not only receive affirmative consent, but they must receive explicit verbal consent from the person with whom they are engaging. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, “[M]any colleges have recently adopted similar affirmative-consent policies that require students to ask their partners whether they want to be intimate and to wait for a clear response—either a verbal yes or unambiguous body language.”
We also know that providing the best educational climate for our students requires ongoing work—continually receiving and encouraging feedback, making adjustments, and engaging in collaborative review processes and meaningful conversations geared toward culture change. During the past year, our efforts have been focused on three areas: improving our reporting and adjudication process, providing better support to students who experience sexual violence, and developing stronger education and prevention programs.
We want to share briefly with you some of the more recent changes and initiatives within each of these areas. For additional information, please visit our newly updated and expanded webpage on the topic.
Reporting and Adjudication
One of the challenges all colleges face is how to increase the number of students who report their experience of sexual misconduct. The research tells us one potential obstacle to reporting is a lack of trust about how that report will be handled. Based on this information, we have made several changes that have increased reporting and improved the college adjudication process, including:
- Significantly revising the adjudication process, as an outcome of a policy review group composed of faculty, staff, and students;
- Hiring a new Title IX coordinator who exclusively manages the college’s Title IX process, which includes receiving reports, overseeing the adjudication process, and training and educating the college community;
- Increasing training of college employees (including student employees) regarding reporting obligations; and
- Increasing training of the faculty and staff members involved in the adjudication process.
The Department of Education, through the Clery Act, requires that Goucher report its crime statistics, including sex offenses, to the department on an annual basis. Goucher also publishes this information in its Annual Security Report (page 38), available on the college’s website, and we will be providing the campus community with a summary of all reports and adjudication outcomes for sexual misconduct and sex offense cases that occurred during the 2014 calendar year. It is important to note Goucher can only publish and report the incidents students report to the administration; thus we are continually striving to encourage students to come forward so they can receive assistance, and we can address the misconduct.
We know there are students in our community who have experienced interpersonal violence, in some cases even before they arrived here, and they need support. We want to highlight a few aspects of the support we provide and direct you to our webpage for a more comprehensive list of resources available to students, including on-campus counseling services:
- When a student chooses to pursue a formal adjudication process, both the complainant and accused student may choose an adviser to provide support through that process. In the last year, we have trained about 20 people to serve in this role.
- Take Back the Night is an event that occurs every spring and is planned by students, in collaboration with staff and faculty advisers, to support sexual violence survivors within our community.
- Goucher has a strong relationship with Turn Around Inc., a nearby support center for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, and the college works collaboratively with this agency to ensure students can access necessary resources.
Education and Prevention
So long as sexual misconduct occurs within our community, we will continue to allocate resources to our response efforts. Our ultimate goal, however, is for this to be a community free from such misconduct. The education and prevention campaigns on this campus are a way for all of us—faculty, staff, and students—to continue to move our culture toward one of safety, respect, and accountability. In addition to the education students receive in their first semester at Goucher, as well as the required online training for all upper-class students, there are several opportunities each semester for students to engage in dialogue, hear from experts, and gain skills for intervention. Below are just two examples of our education and prevention programs:
- This past semester, lead researcher and consultant Dr. David Lisak spent a full day on our campus, meeting with faculty, staff, and students to share his research on non-stranger sexual assault and to facilitate dialogue. He also delivered a presentation to more than 100 community members.
- Green Dot is a nationally recognized bystander intervention program that was brought to Goucher in 2011. The Green Dot program is based on what we know to be true—that most people do not commit acts of sexual misconduct and that many would intervene if they were more aware and had confidence in their intervention skills. At Goucher, students volunteer to participate in a seven-hour bystander intervention training to sharpen skills and increase awareness. Five additional staff members were trained to be Green Dot instructors over this winter break, providing us with a chance to further expand upon this program’s impact at Goucher.
In the last few years, students have continued to get involved in some remarkable ways—by attending Green Dot trainings, organizing Take Back the Night and other events, participating in policy review processes, and continuing to talk with administrators when issues do arise. We have already identified multiple ways for students to continue to engage with this process in the upcoming semester—through an open forum, several education and prevention opportunities, and a voluntary climate survey. We hope you and your student will participate as we continue to monitor and improve our efforts to address and prevent sexual misconduct in our community. For a more in-depth explanation, please review the “Frequently Asked Questions” on our website.
What can you do to help your Goucher student contribute to our environment of mutual respect and accountability? Talk to him or her about healthy sexual behaviors. Know and understand that Goucher’s consent policy requires that students initiating sexual activity must receive explicit verbal consent from the person with whom they are engaging. Be open to difficult conversations around this topic. When your student speaks about rumors on campus, encourage her or him to speak with a staff or faculty member about these concerns so everyone has the most reliable information possible. Most importantly, if you notice a change in behavior in your student—such as social withdrawal, a drop in grades, or anything that sets off your internal alarm—check in with your student and let him or her know you are a safe person to talk to, or direct your student to resources on Goucher’s campus.
This is a difficult topic, but working together, we can create a community that is free from sexual misconduct.
José Antonio Bowen, President
Lucia Perfetti Clark, Title IX Coordinator
Bryan Coker, Vice President and Dean of Students
Roshelle Kades ’11, Assistant Director for Student Outreach