Earlier this month, a Cook County judge ordered that a U of C alumna be allowed to refile her lawsuit against the University for its handling of a 2005 sexual assault case. The suit alleges that the employees at the Student Care Center neglected to offer a rape kit when the woman, then a student, told them she had been raped; the University in response claims that she declined a sexual assault examination.
The facts are not clear and at this point there is no way to sort out what really happened—all we can hope for is a fair adjudication of the case. Nevertheless, the suit should serve as a wake-up call to the University regarding its antiquated sexual assault policy.
Earlier this year, the Working Group on Sexual Assault Policy (WGSAP) made recommendations to Deputy Dean of Students Martina Munsters on improving the current policy. Some of the suggestions—like conducting the disciplinary proceedings in a timely manner—point to embarrassing flaws in the existing policy, or at least in its implementation.
Other suggestions are similarly self-evident. One entails having members of the disciplinary committee that handles intra-University complaints undergo sensitivity training. This proposal is particularly salient after a 2007 case in which committee members allegedly said that a sexual assault victim was “asking for it.” Recommendations such as allowing the accuser to request a review of the decision and directing all complaints through the Office of the Dean of Students in the University are similarly sound.
Regardless of the details of the case, inaction from the University would send a dangerous message. The lawsuit has already garnered a feature article and several follow-ups in the Chicago Sun–Times, and the coverage is not likely to abate if the case progresses. If the University develops a reputation for not taking sexual assault allegations seriously, it would in effect discourage students from coming forward, a result that is every bit as deleterious as an unresponsive or insulting disciplinary committee.
It’s not clear where in the bureaucratic process WGSAP’s recommendations are, but what is clear is that they need to be made a priority. These policy proposals are far too important to collect dust on Munsters’s desk.
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