Board editorial: Whitman needs to rethink police reporting policies

Editorial Board

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This editorial was written by the Pioneer  editors in light of the March 1, 2012 article, “Victims find sexual misconduct process ineffective.”

Sexual assault is an undeniably complicated crime to prosecute. Victims are not always willing to come forward or press charges, and even in cases where a formal investigation is undertaken, piecing together the facts of a case can prove difficult. It is critical to create a safe environment for students who come forward to report sexual assault  that allows  survivors  to retain control over the process. It is the opinion of the Pioneer editorial board, however, that Whitman’s manner of dealing with sexual assault relies too much on internal processes  and fails to adequately encourage victims to report to law enforcement. Although addressing sexual misconduct on campus is important, focusing more of the college’s energy on working with the police would send the message that Whitman considers sexual assault to be a crime, not merely a violation of college policy.

Whitman spends an admirable amount of time educating the student body about ways to prevent sexual assault through programs such as Green Dot. But emphasis on prevention only goes so far. Education about options available to students in the wake of sexual assault should be part of Whitman’s general awareness campaign. This way, if an instance occurs, the importance  of reporting sexual assaults to the police will already be ingrained in the survivor’s mentality.

Whitman’s process is designed to allow victims of sexual assault to self-determine whether they want to seek police help. The flexibility of Whitman’s policy regarding police notification is one of the reasons that so many Whitman students report cases of sexual assault to the college in the first place. It would be a mistake for Whitman to require students to report sexual assaults to the police. In the past 13 years, however, the Walla Walla police have never filed criminal charges in a rape case from Whitman. This alone suggests that Whitman’s policy is far too lax on the issue of police reporting.  

A variety of cultural and societal factors underlie the reluctance of sexual assault survivors to report to the police. People often think: mistakenly: that going forward will automatically result in a criminal investigation beyond their control.  Whitman states in its sexual misconduct policy that filing a police report does not obligate a victim to press charges, and notes  that victims could benefit from immediately presenting evidence to the police. The problem with these statements is that they’re likely to only be read by students in the aftermath of sexual assault: when they’re scared, traumatized and unlikely to be thinking rationally about the long-term consequences of their actions.

For this reason, we feel that it is necessary for a victims’ advocate unaffiliated with Whitman to be present at the initial meeting between the victim and the administration. Currently,  Whitman  gives victims the option of requesting a meeting with Chalese Rabidue, a victims’ advocate who works with the police department. This system  places a burden of  responsibility for action on the victim. The presence of  a victims’ advocate like Rabidue at the initial meeting would serve victims by keeping their options open.  It would also send the message that Whitman takes sexual assault seriously enough to treat it as a crime.

No amount of preventative education can stop all sexual assaults. In addition to its efforts through the Green Dot program, we feel that Whitman would be acting in the best interest of all students by providing information  about the reporting process, including the role of law enforcement, in the sexual assault training during orientation.  Whitman’s stance should not only be one of prevention; it should also actively encourage students to work with law enforcement when sexual assaults do occur. Survivors of sexual assault cannot be expected to seek external support without the assistance of an advocate. Treating sexual assault as a criminal, legal issue is a critical step in reducing the appalling rates of rape on college campuses and in the United States.

 

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