According to a report in The Des Moines Register, a male student at Central College of Pella, Iowa who was found responsible for “non-consensual sex” was offered a choice of punishment: immediate expulsion, or staying in school but not being allowed to walk at graduation and a note on his permanent record that he had violated the school’s code of conduct.
The news of the school’s lenient policy towards those it finds responsible for “non-consensual sex” comes the same week that Vice President Joe Biden spoke to victims’ advocates group about holding institutions accountable for the manner in which they handle sexual assaults on campus.
“Colleges and universities can no longer turn a blind eye or pretend rape or sexual assault doesn’t occur on their campuses,” Biden said. “I challenge every college and university, if they are really serious about protecting students, to conduct anonymous surveys. They have a moral responsibility to know what is happening on their campus.”
At Central College, the decision to allow the student accused of rape his choice of punishment is causing controversy.
The five-person Sexual Misconduct Hearing Committee conducted an 11-hour-long hearing in which both the alleged rapist and his victim testified. The victim was instructed to answer questions from the man she was accusing of having raped her, an experience she found so stressful that she repeatedly vomited in the bathroom.
The victim said that she’s been diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome, and that she was forced to take a medical leave halfway through last semester.
In the end, the committee said the man was given a choice of punishment because of “discrepancies between the two individuals’ perceptions and explanations of their relationship and the incident.” This choice was offered despite the fact that “a decision of responsibility was reached by a majority (not unanimous) of the committee who decided the evidence tipped the scales however so slightly of finding (the accused) responsible.”
Both the victim and the accused have appealed the decision.
Central College President Mark Putnam emailed the campus community on Tuesday expressing disappointment in The Des Moines Register‘s decision to write about the case.
“I am disappointed,” he wrote, “that the Register chose to proceed with an inaccurate article that relies heavily on assumption and speculation from remarkably incomplete information, a vague understanding of the legal and regulatory context, commentary from individuals outside the college who have no knowledge of the situation, and compromises the confidentiality we seek to provide for those actively involved in judicial proceedings that remain unfinished.”
“I am confident,” he continued, “that when this process is concluded, Central College will not only have complied with its legal obligations, but also treated the parties fairly. Nonetheless, it is obviously distressing to hear that any student feels that the process was unaccommodating, and rest assured that Central College will continually review its processes in a never-ending effort to improve the process for participants while ensuring continued compliance with the various legal requirements.”
Former students do not share his confidence. “What resources is he talking about?” Sarah Moglia, a 24-year-old graduate toldThe Des Moines Register. “They had two therapists on campus, and they were always very booked . Because I was psychology student, I was able to squeeze in some of the students who reported. But if I hadn’t been pushing for it, the secretary would say they don’t have any openings.”
She also claimed that allowing the accused to confront his victim in a hearing is not an unusual occurrence, as the school prefers to handle accusations by “mediat[ing] a discussion” so that the victim and the accused can “work out their differences.”
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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