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Rape policy mandates reporting

Five incidents of "forcible sexual offenses" were reported on campus in 2007, according to the most-recent Clery Campus Security Report. But Duke officials and the National Institute of Justice suggest the real number of offenses may be much higher.

"The higher IQ, the more manipulative they are, the more cunning they are... imagine the sex offenders we have here at Duke-cream of the crop," said Women's Center Director Ada Gregory.

In order to draw a truer picture of sex crimes at Duke, University officials changed the sexual misconduct policy over the summer in efforts to encourage more student victims to come forward.

The revised policy includes a clause requiring student-on-student sexual misconduct to be reported by University officials who learn of it. These people include faculty and staff, as well as students who represent an arm of the University, such as resident assistants and first-year advisory counselors.

Previously, University officials were only required to report faculty or staff sexual offenses against students. Now, when an allegation is filed, the Women's Center and the Office of Student Conduct are notified. The Women's Center will reach out to the victim with medical and psychological support and the OSC will automatically begin an investigation into the allegation.

Under the policy, students may still confidentially report sexual misconduct to counselors in the Women's Center, staff members in Student Health, licensed therapists and counselors and clergy members.

"I hope the way women and men see this is as a supportive process that seeks to find the truth," said Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek, assistant vice president of student affairs.

The five forcible sexual offenses in the 2007 Clery report represent the fewest number of incidents in the past three years-seven were reported in 2006 and 10 in 2005, according to the report.

"We know there's a presence [of sexual misconduct], we've had cases and situations in the past, so to think that it does not exist on this campus, I think, would be naive and foolish," Wasiolek said. "That being said, I also don't think that this is a campus or a campus culture where sexual assault is rampant or quickly and easily tolerated."

 

Reporting and investigating offenses

Although the University has many resources available for victims of sexual misconduct, there are many reasons that some victims choose not to report being attacked.

Fear of social stigma and self-blame are among those reasons, said Sheila Broderick, sexual assault support services coordinator for the Women's Center.

In addition, when students are raped, more than half the victims do not define the incident as "rape," especially if there was alcohol involved, according to the National Institute of Justice's Web site.

"Duke is not unlike colleges across the United States," Gregory said. "And in fact, for me, this is an impetus for implementing mandatory reporting because this is not an environment where students feel comfortable coming forward."

Among administrators, there was initially some concern that the new policy might deter students from reporting sexual misconduct, or increase false reports, Gregory said. But she said she does not anticipate this will be the case.

"We're creating an environment that says, 'This is not tolerated in our community,' and when you create that environment, victims are more likely to come forward and seek help," she said, adding that victims who are supported shortly after their trauma are more likely to cooperate with the investigation process.

Stephen Bryan, associate dean of students and director of student conduct, said the University is prepared for more reports and more investigations, even if more alleged victims are not willing to cooperate with the process.

If necessary, he said that the OSC could hire an outside person to assist in conducting investigations into sexual misconduct, although that would be an "ad hoc" decision.

Other officials have been preparing for the change as well. Although the policy did not officially go into effect until students arrived on campus in August, Student Affairs officials, FACs and Residence Life and Housing Services staff like RAs were trained in the changes during the summer.

FACs signed their contracts before the policy change occurred, and nothing written appeared in this year's FAC PAC about the policy due to the short notice, said FAC co-Chair Meg Foran, a senior. She said if any FACs had been uncomfortable with their new roles under the policy, she would have worked to reassign their freshmen and allowed them to leave the program, but no one asked to quit.

Several RAs declined to comment on how the new policy might affect their roles. Associate Dean for Residential Life Joe Gonzalez said just as before the policy change, RAs are expected to report any incidents of sexual misconduct to their Resident Coordinator.

 

"Rape culture"

Broderick said students passively approve a culture of behavior that leads to sexual misconduct, citing parties that have sexually suggestive or sexist advertisements-like a schoolgirl theme.

Administrators discuss party themes that could be considered "inappropriate" during the approval process and ask student groups to reconsider them, Wasiolek said. But the University does not force groups to change the names or themes of their events.

"I think people focus sometimes on the cleverness of the party theme, and they reflect on whether the event the prior year was successful... without people really considering what kind of impact those themes can have," Wasiolek said. "I have sensed a change over the last year or two, I've sensed that people are, number one, thinking about it more and, number two, expressing their concern-I think there are people on campus who are willing to express their disapproval for those kinds of themes."

Broderick also cited "rape culture" in America and at Duke as evidence that sexual assault does occur and as a reason victims may be hesitant to report misconduct.

When the Women's Center changed its presentation for freshmen from "The Real Deal" to "True Blue," the center eliminated Party Boy Chad. For several years, Party Boy Chad was a character in a humorous skit that warned freshmen about the potential for sexual misconduct, particularly in conjunction with parties and alcohol.

Broderick said one reason the Women's Center staff decided to eliminate Party Boy Chad was based on reports they were receiving that students tried to emulate him, humorously and otherwise.

"Party Boy Chad is a great example of rape culture on campus," Broderick said. "I've had victims come to me crying and say, 'I went to The Real Deal, they told me about Party Boy Chad and I fell for it anyway. I should have known better.'"

 

A proactive change

In the past, the movement that pushed for reporting policies on campus focused on empowering victims to come forward and report their attackers, Broderick said. But "because of the psychological effects of trauma, it's not appropriate to make the victim drive the process," she said.

Rather, the University's new policy will empower victims to decide how much they want to be involved in the process, while forcing University officials to begin the investigation and offer support to the victim, Broderick said.

The policy is also a way for the University to get ahead of the legal curve. The Duke University General Counsel suggested the change to University officials. General Counsel Vice President Pamela Bernard wrote in an e-mail that there is evidence the legal landscape is shifting toward holding universities responsible for investigating reported sexual misconduct, just as gender discrimination prevention laws require an employer to investigate these incidents.

She said courts have recognized that Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in education, applies in situations of student-to-student sexual misconduct.

Gregory, of the Women's Center, said that although mandatory reporting policies such as this are not new, the University is making a proactive change that she thinks most colleges will not make until they are legally forced to do so.

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