Federal Ruling Says Colleges and Universities Can’t Silence Rape Victims
KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa.
As millions of college students prepare to go back to school in the next few weeks, campus crime victim advocates are hailing a landmark federal ruling that will help improve safety on college and university campuses across the country. In last month’s ruling against Georgetown University, the U.S. Department of Education held that it is illegal for a college to make a campus rape victim sign a confidentiality agreement in order to be told the results of disciplinary action taken against their alleged assailant.
Under the federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, sexual assault victims must unconditionally be told these results the federal agency ruled. Institutions that violate the law face fines of up to $27,000 per violation or loss of eligibility to participate in federal student aid programs.
“The ruling significantly advances student safety and marks a major improvement in the way our nation treats campus assault victims,” said Connie Clery, CEO and co-founder of the national nonprofit victim assistance organization Security on Campus Inc. Clery and her husband, Howard, championed federal campus crime reporting and victims’ rights legislation after they experienced first-hand the tragedy of campus violence.
“As our own family learned, after my daughter Jeanne was brutally raped and murdered on campus, colleges don’t want their images sullied by public crime reports,” said Clery. “This ruling ensures that rape victims won’t be silenced by schools which are more concerned about their image than keeping their students safe.
“If they want to talk to their friends about what happened to them, they can. If they want to tell them who did it, they can. If they want to put up a poster when the school lets the guy off with hardly any punishment, they can. If they want to hold a news conference and announce to the campus just how the school handled the case, they can. If doing this will help them heal, then they should do just that, and the school can’t stop them.”
Colleges and universities have come under fire in recent years for operating a secret system of on-campus justice that handles everything from routine alcohol violations to crimes as serious as rape and even cases involving student deaths.
“Forcing a victim to sign a confidentiality agreement in order to find the outcome of a hearing which they initiated is not only against the law, it’s inhumane,” said Kate Dieringer, the Georgetown student who complained to the Department of Education last year about having to sign a confidentiality agreement in her campus sexual assault case.
A copy of the Education Department’s ruling in the Georgetown University case is available on the Security on Campus Inc. Web site at <www.securityoncampus.org/reporters/releases/degioia071604.pdf>.
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