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Senate Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Campus Sexual Assault

On December 9, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held a hearing, “Campus Sexual Assault: The Roles and Responsibilities of Law Enforcement.”

“Nearly one in five women in college will be victims of sexual assault or attempted assault during their undergraduate careers…and it demands our action. Too many young women’s lives are being changed forever for us to accept the status quo,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). She continued, “Time and again, I have heard from far too many survivors of campus sexual assault that they have felt re-victimized by the process of trying to seek justice for the crime committed against them. This inescapable fact must be fixed.”

Peg Langhammer, executive director, Day One, stated: “Campus-based adjudication processes don’t work. Colleges alone are not competent to handle the investigation and prosecution of these cases, nor should they be. The college hearing process should be integrated with law enforcement. Police need to be involved, but it has to be a team approach.” Ms. Langhammer added, “Most sexual assaults are never reported to law enforcement and even among reported cases, most will never be successfully prosecuted. Nationwide, the Department of Justice states that about 35 percent of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to the police last year. That’s a low number, but it’s a lot better than the five percent reported by college students. We need to create a new system, that’s the first step. We can’t expect victims to report when the system in place doesn’t work. We know we can’t just leave these cases to the criminal justice system, in part because most victims are so reluctant to report assaults to the police. So the question is not, should colleges be mandated to report these crimes to police? The question is how do we create a system where the victim’s choices are the priority and the process is designed to work in the best interest of the victim?”

Kathy R. Zoner, chief, Cornell University Police, noted that “Sexual assaults occurring in a campus community can be investigated pursuant to two types of adjudicative processes – administrative and law enforcement.” After outlining the differences between the two processes, Chief Zoner explained, “Concurrent investigations raise tricky issues for law enforcement and campus adjudicators to navigate. Campus police will, more likely than not, gather evidence that could be useful to the Title IX investigation. As a law enforcement officer conducting an investigation, my biggest concern is that sharing evidence may undercut a criminal case – which is on a much longer timeline – against a respondent. The collection and maintenance of evidence for a criminal prosecution is tightly controlled by procedural rules. This is not the case with administrative proceedings. The way that campus officials receive and treat evidence in an administrative investigation can negatively impact its admissibility in court, potentially undermining a criminal case. Additionally, if evidence is discovered after an administrative case is closed that would affect or overturn a decision, both parties may have already suffered irreparable consequences.”

The following witnesses also testified:

  • Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO); and
  • Angela Fleischer, assistant director, Student Support and Intervention for Confidential Advising, Southern Oregon University.


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