The Georgetown University General Counsel held a panel discussion on sexual assault and due process March 12 and discussed recent changes to related policies implemented by the federal government.

At the panel, organized by the American Constitution Society, Vice President and General Counsel Lisa Brown noted that the increased focus on sexual assault on college campuses requires constant evaluation by universities to stay up to date on new regulations.

“Along with Student Affairs, Health Education, [Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action], student leaders and many others at Georgetown who are dedicated to preventing and responding to cases of sexual assault in our community, we are constantly evaluating our policies, procedures, and resources to ensure they are fair to all parties involved, consistent with the law and true to our values,” Brown said to The Hoya. “Keeping up with new laws, guidance documents and agreements — as well as best practices from other institutions and experts in the field — is an important way that Georgetown does this work.”

A March 13 article published by the Washington Examiner called the conversation a criticism of federal policies, which Brown said mischaracterized the tone of the discussion. Brown maintained that the purpose of the meeting was to review changes in sexual assault policy, and that the tone of the conversation was not as negative as the Washington Examiner described.

“The resulting story in the Washington Examiner … was taken quite out of context, as I was not lamenting new rules on this important issue,” Brown said.

The federal government introduced new legislation in the Senate this month that would increase university accountability in sexual assault cases. Titled the Campus Safety and Accountability Act, the proposed bill would raise penalties for universities in violation of Title IX, provide more resources for survivors, require more transparency in disciplinary procedures and distribute campus climate surveys.

This past year has seen a slew of reform bills responding to sexual assault on college campuses. In January 2014, President Obama formed a White House task force to head federal efforts to prevent and respond to sexual assaults on college campuses, and in September 2014, the White House and Center for American Progress’ Generation Progress launched a public awareness campaign against sexual assault called “It’s On Us” that aims to involve student leaders at Georgetown and at nearly 200 other universities in campaign efforts.

Following these efforts, Georgetown added an alcohol amnesty clause in cases of sexual assault and launched the webpage with information and resources on sexual assault in February 2014 and reformed sexual assault policy in September 2014, reducing the number of individuals involved in sexual misconduct hearings and hiring outside investigators to look into complaints prior to the hearings. Previously, sexual assault hearings were handled in the same way as other breach of conduct hearings.

While the Examiner article claimed that these various federal policies reflect a bias against the accused, Sexual Assault and Health Issues Coordinator Jen Schweer said she believes survivor-centered sexual assault policies are not biased but critical in order to change the culture around sexual assault.

“I think the recent national dialogue and attention to the issue of sexual assault through laws and policy has allowed all of our communities to understand the importance of environments that are survivor centered,” Schweer said. “I don’t believe at all that survivor-centered means biased.”

Schweer added that more sexual assault policy should address the amount of sexual assault crimes that go unreported.

“Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. It’s absolutely critical that we change the conversation to provide access to systems to those who want to use it as part of their healing,” Schweer said.

Georgetown University Student Association Secretary of Student Health and Safety Nora West (SFS ’15) said that the changing policies still leave a continued presence of bias against the survivor.

“Even with these new rules there is still a bias against survivors,” West said. “People are just reacting to the fact that there has been an upswing in cases due to the increased awareness around the issue. For the first time, perpetrators are being held accountable, and only sometimes, realistically. Let’s not pretend the system is biased against them.”

At Georgetown, 12 cases of sexual assault have been heard since 2012. Six people were found not responsible and six people were found responsible. Of those six found responsible, three were expelled and three were suspended. The Department of Justice says that two to eight percent of sexual assault accusations are false, which is about the same as those of other crimes.

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