April 15, 2002

Sexual Assault Awareness Addressed

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According to Cornell Advocates for Rape Education (CARE), one in six women will experience some sort of sexual assault in their lifetime, while one in four female college students has been a rape or attempted rape victim. With such staggering statistics, many people at Cornell and in the Ithaca community have taken on the responsibility of tending to issues of sexual assault awareness, prevention, victim support, and the prosecution of sexual assault offenders.

Each year, an estimated six to seven counts of sexual assault are reported to the Judicial Administrator (J.A.). While the Office of the Judicial Administrator will provide resources and guidance for all sexual assault victims with whom they consult, Cornell’s jurisdiction for any reported crime is limited to events occurring on campus, in educational facilities, residential areas, or in Greek houses. Should the alleged case of sexual assault occur off campus, and is, therefore, beyond Cornell judicial and criminal authority, the J.A. refers the claimant to the Ithaca Police Department.

“The University goes out of its way to make sure the criminal justice system is publicized and [provides information on] how to access it,” said Mary Beth Grant, judicial administrator.

However, if the reported instance of sexual assault occurs on campus, judicial protocol dictates the subsequent procedures used by the University to explore the crime.

“Sometimes, people aren’t quite sure what they want to do,” she said. “They want to know their options.”

Should the claimant choose to pursue the alleged assaulter and should there be sufficient evidence to do so, the J.A. can either issue what is called a suspension pending a hearing on the merit, or a temporary order of protection.

The suspension pending a hearing is “used to protect the public order,” according to Grant, and is seen as a temporary emergency suspension. This measure temporarily suspends the alleged offender until judicial hearings are held. As a result, allegations calling for such a suspension must be severe enough to endanger both the alleged victim and the Cornell community.

Should the allegations be less severe, a temporary order of protection is often issued. This measure applies to all instances of violence and acts as a restraining order of sorts, prohibiting the alleged offender from engaging in any contact, physical or verbal, with the alleged victim.

According to Grant, both measures are generally effective in protecting the alleged victim.

“Most of the time the measures serve as a wake up call [to the accused persons],” said Grant. “[And] they honor the order of protection.”

Following the issuance of these protective measures, the J.A. office will work to collect evidence and speak with witnesses in preparation for the hearing which will determine either the guilt or innocence of the accused person as well as the punishment should the verdict be “guilty.”

Punishments are case-specific and, according to Grant, they are pending on the “seriousness of the violation.”

The hearing committee takes many factors into account in determining an appropriate act of recourse to an instance of sexual assault. Oftentimes, more witnesses will be called to testify and more evidence will be presented. Also, the J.A. and the offender’s advisor can recommend what they feel are suitable punishments. Punishments range anywhere from an oral warning to community service requirements to dismissal from the University.

“Any decisions that we make can be appealed by a complaint to the hearing board,” Grant said.

Should the charges not be severe enough to merit a formal hearing, the alleged offender will meet personally with the J.A. and produce a Summary Decision Agreement which includes an admittance to a violation and an agreement to seek educational resources regarding the specific crime.

In addition to the judicial proceedings, there are many venues of support for victims following an instance of sexual assault. The Victim Advocacy Program functions as a liaison between the victim and Cornell faculty, accompanies the victim to various support communities, and helps to identify other useful resources in coping with the post-trauma of

sexual assault.

According to the Cornell University Police Department (CUPD), “the majority of the students request that the victim advocate contact faculty members to explain difficulties that students face and request, for example, more time to complete assignments.”

CARE functions as another combat to sexual assault. Through ongoing sexual assault educational efforts and evaluation of Cornell-specific sexual assault issues, CARE has influenced the University policy regarding areas of sexual assault in the past decade.

Beyond the Cornell campus, Grant and the CUPD refer students to the Crime Victim and Sexual Assault Services of Tompkins County (SVSA) and the Task Force for Battered Women.

Archived article by Ellen Miller