Allegations of sexual assault and harassment spanning from Hollywood moguls to members of Congress have left our nation steeped in the tumultuous and divisive conversation about sexual misconduct

While these accusations have earned the attention they deserve in the public realm, they also open a space for Georgetown to reflect on its own procedures for handling cases of on-campus sexual assault.

As Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos advocates for dismantling former President Barack Obama’s regulations to address sexual assault on campus, re-evaluating Georgetown University’s standards for dealing with sexual assault should be more important to the campus community than the news on actor Kevin Spacey, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein or Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).

As it stands, the university’s system is an ineffective means of pursuing justice because it discourages survivors from reporting, leaving them silenced.

The 2016 Sexual Assault Climate Survey, which collected data from 51 percent of the student body, revealed the worrisome finding that one in four of all female students reported forced or unwanted penetration, with female undergraduate freshmen experiencing rates of sexual assault twice as high as female seniors.

The reason? More than 40 percent of surveyed female undergraduates said they believed campus officials were “somewhat” likely to “conduct a fair investigation,” while 37.3 percent said campus officials were “somewhat” likely to “protect the safety of the person making the report.” Within this same group, 37 percent also said campus officials were “somewhat” likely to “take the report seriously,” with 17.3 percent answering that it was only “a little” likely.

Among female students who answered that they had experienced forced penetration, 77 percent of them responded to the survey that they did not report to any university program, including fully confidential services such as Counseling and Psychiatric Services. A quarter of these women said they “did not think anything would be done.”

Such distrust of Georgetown’s ability to conduct fair investigations and hearings is one explanation for the pervasive underreporting in the Georgetown community.

To mitigate this skepticism, the university should begin by addressing the flawed sexual assault conduct policies and procedures prescribed in Georgetown’s Code of Student Conduct.

The makeup of the committee that hears the case, the rules of evidence and the role of attorneys for respondents and complainants are glaring flaws in the sexual misconduct procedures.

Two faculty members and one student are first chosen from the pool of members of the Sexual Misconduct Panel. These three individuals, who have undergone specific training in cases of sexual assault, then listen to testimonies, evaluate the evidence collected by the university’s police department, instruct questioning, reach verdicts and, if applicable, provide subsequent sanctioning.

With respondents’ and complainants’ lawyers only being allowed to act as “moral support,” deprived of any agency to act on behalf of their clients and prohibited from actively partaking in the hearing, students may find themselves making statements and giving testimony that could later be used against them in a civil suit or criminal trial.

Moreover, Georgetown only permits the consideration of prior verdicts or charges of sexual assault to inform sanctioning if the respondent is found guilty, but not as evidence during the trial itself.

By outlawing the use of past incidences of sexual assault as evidence during the hearing process — unlike the criminal justice system, which considers past guilty sexual assault verdicts to accurately assess present charges — the Judicial Hearing Board remains ignorant of pertinent information in reaching a just verdict.

Each of these factors is worrisome by itself, but together they render the system ineffective, potentially leading survivors to feel as though the school does not offer a viable means of seeking justice.

To create a system that encourages survivors to come forward and instill a sense of faith in the university’s process, prior responsible verdicts of sexual assault should be admissible as evidence. There should also be an independent third party, who represents a non-governmental organization dealing with sexual assault like the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, sitting on the committee that hears cases of sexual assault and ensures unbiased decisions. Additionally, attorneys of respondents and complainants should be given a voice to prevent the utterance of statements that can later be used against the parties in a court of law.

With the country’s eyes and ears focused on sexual assault, now is the time to identify these shortcomings and make these substantive changes in a system that directly influences our peers.

Kate Lambroza is a senior in the College.

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