In order to increase awareness about sexual assault and how it is addressed at Georgetown, the Sexual Assault Working Group sponsored a mock hearing Wednesday night in Copley Formal Lounge. The hearing used a fictional case to illustrate how a Sexual Assault Hearing Board would conduct and decide a sexual assault complaint brought against a student. The purpose of the hearing was to give students a better awareness of the campus sexual assault policy and the hearing process on campus, according to Sexual Assault Services Coordinator Carolyn Hurwitz. Georgetown defines sexual assault as “the use of coercion by a student to cause, or attempt to cause, a person to engage in or submit to sexually explicit touching.” The university defines coercion as using force, threatening force, using or threatening harm, physical or emotional intimidation or administering a drug or other substance to impair someone’s faculties. Sexual assault is also defined as “any act of sexual penetration by a student to which an individual does not give consent which may, or may not, involve coercion. Sexual penetration is defined as any degree of insertion of a penis, hand, finger, tongue or any object into a person’s anus or vulva, or any degree of insertion of genitalia into the mouth.” The fictional case in the hearing continued a vignette presented in the “Playing Jeopardy” skits about college issues such as drugs, alcohol, sex, racism and safety that are presented to freshmen during New Student Orientation. In the case, “Katie,” played by Erin Durkay (SFS ’99) and “Grant,” played by Jeff Trent (MSB ’01), met at a bar where they had been drinking, hit it off and went back to Grant’s apartment. Outside the apartment, the two consented to kiss. Inside, they began to make out, taking off their shirts. However, although sexual intercourse occurred, the accounts of the incident differ. According to Katie, Grant pulled her underwear off even though she tried to wriggle away, and then he had sex with her against her will. “I was frozen,” she said. Grant, on the other hand, contended that the sex was mutual. He said that Katie never said no to his pulling up her skirt, taking off her underwear and to having sex. “I know that no means no, at no time was I ever told to stop, at no time did Katie ever say no,” he said. According to Hurwitz, the story was not taken from a specific case. “It is stuff not atypical of what comes forward through my office or DPS,” she said. She added that only a handful of the sexual assault and other cases she sees ever go to a hearing. In the scenario, Katie decided to initiate a case against Grant through the university judicial system. When a sexual assault complaint is filed, the Department of Public Safety takes statements from the complainant (the person filing the charge), the respondent (the person at whom the charge is directed) and all possible witnesses. According to the Handbook, the evidence is forwarded to the Office of Student Conduct. Director of Student Conduct Judy Johnson meets with the parties and their witnesses. Because sexual assault is a Category C violation, it is forwarded to a Category C Review Committee that determines whether the evidence fits with the policy of a Category C violation, according to Johnson. Johnson said a Category C offense is the most serious breach of university conduct. If a student is found guilty of a Category C offense, he or she can face the most severe sanctions, up to and including dismissal from Georgetown. If the committee feels the evidence fits the definition of a Category C violation, the case is forwarded to a Sexual Assault Hearing Board composed of two faculty or staff members and two students. The board then hears the case, makes a final decision and, if the respondent is found responsible, imposes a sanction. Johnson said that in such a hearing, the burden of proof always falls on the student pressing the charge. In a typical judicial hearing, the respondent is asked whether he or she is responsible or not responsible for each of the charges levied against him or her. In this case, Grant was accused of consumption of alcohol by a minor, inappropriate sexual touching and sexual assault. Then the complainant and the respondent each give opening statements detailing the points of their case. The complainant then presents any additional information in his or her case and next is asked questions by the board. At the mock hearing, “Katie” was asked questions about the amount of alcohol she had consumed, how the incident affected her emotionally and academically, her expectations for the night, whether she said “no” or “yes” to the intercourse and whether she tried to struggle or get away. After the board’s questions, the respondent can ask the complainant questions. The complainant’s witnesses then give statements and are questioned by the hearing board and the respondent. The respondent then presents his case and is questioned by the board and the complainant. “Grant” was asked if he ever explicitly asked “Katie” if they could have sex, if his judgment had been impaired by alcohol and whether “Katie” ever protested or said no to intercourse or the removal of her clothes. The respondent’s witnesses then give statements and are asked questions. The board then asks any final questions, recalls any witnesses if needed and the parties give final statements. The board then deliberates and reaches a decision. A majority of the board members must agree on a decision of “responsible” for the decision to be binding – a unanimous verdict is not required. In the mock hearing, Grant was found responsible for sexual assault, a Category C offense. Students found responsible for such an offense have 10 days to appeal the ruling. After the mock hearing, attendees discussed and questioned administrators on various aspects of Georgetown’s sexual assault policy. Several students said that they were not aware of the policy. “We are open to ways to better get the word out,” Hurwitz said. Several audience members also questioned whether Katie was clear enough in saying no. Hurwitz said that, under Georgetown policy, sexual partners are supposed to obtain verbal consent before sexually explicit touching such as kissing and before penetration. Johnson added that, if there is any confusion surrounding consent, both partners should stop and obtain permission to continue. Hurwitz said that use of alcohol does not mean that a person is not responsible to get consent. “We have a definition [of sexual assault] that reflects the university’s culture and position but if students feel it needs improvement we want to hear it,” Johnson said.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.