Students and alumni are applauding the success of efforts to repeal the one-year statute of limitations on sexual misconduct reporting.
The abolition of the statute of limitations for reporting sexual misconduct came after several months of student mobilization and negotiation with administrators. Widespread student outcry in response to the diminishment of the statute from two years to one spawned a Duke Student Government campaign, which was led by Ebonie Simpson, Trinity ’12 and former DSG vice president for student life. Simpson said she believes the policy change came only after administrators’ attitudes changed, noting that the administration was initially “on the defensive.”
“They were trying to explain why they changed it,” Simpson said of her conversations with administrators last Spring. “We were finding holes in those arguments.”
The campaign largely depended on input from students across campus and the ultimate instigation of research of University policy, the policies of peer institutions and federal regulations, said Pete Schork, 2011-2012 DSG president and Trinity ’12.
“The heart of this all along was students who were very upset and took it upon themselves to do research and ultimately put in a lot of effort to get the change overturned,” Schork said.
Sophomore Sarah Haas noted that she was impressed by the impact students were able to have on the issue, adding that she signed the petition to eliminate the statute of limitations and publicized the issue via various social media outlets.
“This issue... has the capacity to personally affect every single student on this campus,” Haas wrote in an email Monday. “It has been argued that college students are more likely to be sexually assaulted than any other age group, and Duke is far from immune to this.”
The abolition of the statute will play a key role in ending the “culture of silence” that surrounds sexual violence, Simpson added. It will discourage perpetrators from committing sexual assault and encourage others to recognize sexual violence.
The statute will change the way the student body and administration deal with sexual assault, said sophomore Chandler Thomas, a gender violence prevention intern at the Duke Women’s Center and writer for Develle Dish, a student feminist blog.
“I personally know students [whom] this policy change and the abolition of the statute of limitations will directly affect,” Thomas said. “If more people feel empowered and are able to come forward to the Office of Student Conduct, more perpetrators can be suspended and hopefully eventually expelled from school.”
Thomas said she was pleased that Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta’s email addressed the importance of the elimination of the statute in the broader context of violence prevention.
“The discussions about the statute of limitations have brought to light our need to continue our aggressive approach to minimizing sexual harassment and assault at Duke,” Moneta wrote in an email Sunday.
Thomas added that the policy will enhance Duke’s presence as an advocate for ending gender violence among other universities. Several contemporaries, including Brown University, Harvard University and Princeton University, do not have statutes of limitations.
The success of the student body on this issue bodes well for the future of student activism on campus, Schork said.
“This just attests to the potential we as students have to make effective change on campus,” Haas noted. “I’m looking forward to what comes next.”