Sexual assault follows proposed policy change

In an e-mail to the Yale College community Thursday, Assistant Chief of Yale Police Ronnell Higgins notified students of the rape of an undergraduate by a fellow undergraduate acquaintance on campus last week.

Higgins’ e-mail, which said the assault was reported anonymously, comes just 10 days after the Sexual Misconduct Committee released a report advising an overhaul of the University’s handling of sexual misconduct cases. It also comes on the heels of an e-mail from Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry and the Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources & Education Center (S.H.A.R.E.) about consensual sex and personal safety during Halloween weekend. University Spokesperson Tom Conroy said there was no connection between Higgins’ report and Gentry and S.H.A.R.E.’s e-mail, though both e-mails included warnings about the use of alcohol.

“When alcohol is included, the likelihood of an assault by disregarding the wishes and boundaries of another person and not having consent increases dramatically,” Gentry and the SHARE Center said.

The assault notification included a warning from Higgins to “exercise care in social settings especially where alcohol might be involved.”

Melanie Boyd, special advisor to the dean of Yale College on gender issues, said that some recipients of e-mail could have inferred that alcohol use factored into the assault based on Higgins’ statement. But Boyd said students should not make this assumption, pointing to prior e-mails in which Higgins offers cautionary advice in response to reported crimes. Given that alcohol use has been statistically linked to sexual violence on college campuses, she said, it made sense for Higgins to ask students to exercise care when consuming alcohol, regardless of the details of the reported case.

“The intention of these e-mails is to have the knowledge of these incidents make students more cognizant of the dangers they’re facing,” Boyd said.

In addition to Yale College, each of Yale’s graduate and professional schools has its own methods for dealing with cases of sexual misconduct, which are investigated by different bodies at each school. In addition to the various local grievance boards, students can also turn to the Yale Police Department to report cases of sexual misconduct.

While it is unclear from Higgins’ e-mail what channels were used to report last week’s incident, Yale College alone has three different bodies that students can turn to for help with sexual misconduct cases. Only one would have the power to discipline the undergraduate perpetrator — the Executive Committee.

The Grievance Board for Student Complaints of Sexual Harassment can accept formal complaints between students and staff, but can only pursue informal mediation and resolutions between students, according to the board’s page on the Yale College website. A student who wishes to make a formal complaint against another student must turn to ExComm, according to the committee’s website, since only ExComm can take disciplinary measures against students. The SHARE Center has a hotline which students can call for advice and guidance, but it cannot take disciplinary action on any cases.

The report of the Sexual Misconduct Committee, released Oct. 18, recommended the implementation of a University-Wide Committee (UWC). The UWC would serve as a centralized, streamlined system to handle sexual misconduct cases across all of Yale’s schools. According to the report, a new system would make it easier for students to report incidents of sexual misconduct. The UWC, comprised of about 15-20 people in the University, would work alongside the existing local grievance boards at each of Yale’s schools, some of which may disband after the UWC forms. Students would have the option of filing complaints with the UWC or the local boards.

The report, commissioned by the Provost’s Office, will be examined by a committee which will decide how to implement the recommended changes.

Yale College’s current sexual misconduct policy states that “any student who engages in sexual misconduct should be aware that his or her behavior may be considered criminal under Connecticut statutes and could result in criminal prosecution, as well as disciplinary action by the Yale College Executive Committee.”

Jordi Gassó and Drew Henderson contributed reporting.

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