A Step-by-Step Look at the Process for Reporting Sexual Assault at Westminster
BY COURTNEY GALLAGHER
Student Life and the Remley Center co-sponsored a panel discussion Thursday to address questions and clear misunderstanding about Westminster’s sexual misconduct policy and the process for reporting incidents.
Kasi Lacey, executive director of the Wellness Center, helped facilitate the discussion and took students step by step through what happens when a student reports sexual misconduct.
If a student experiences sexual assault or rape, they can choose to talk to a confidential or mandatory reporter. A mandatory reporter is required to report the information the student shares to Student Life, while a confidential reporter will listen to a student’s account of an incident without notifying anyone else.
Confidential reporters include Remley Women, the Wellness Center staff, and Chaplains Jamie Haskins and Maeba Jonas.
Remley intern Reese Leech, ’17, said the role of the interns is to make the student comfortable. Their role is to help refer them to other resources or provide them with the next step if they do wish to report the incident. While Remley Women have crisis management training, Leech made it clear that they are not counselors, but peer-to-peer advocates.
Although Haskins emphasized that victims have a right to hold their abusers accountable, it is not the job of confidential reporters to persuade students to report incidents to the college — or to discourage them from doing so — but, rather, to provide students with all of their options.
Haskins said these offices are a good first step for a victim to make the best decision about how they want to move forward.
Anyone else employed by the college, including faculty, staff, coaches and residential advisers, are considered mandatory reporters.
“I’d be there to support them as well, like the Remley Women,” Residential Adviser Natalie Corrigan, ’18, said. “However, I am obligated to take it to (my supervisor) Jackie Weber.”
If a student wishes to report a case, Interim Dean of Student Life Dan Haslag begins the formal process and assesses if any immediate responses need to be taken, such as changing a student’s housing on campus or class schedule. Those changes will occur for the respondent (the person accused of sexual assault), not the complainant (the person reporting the incident).
After immediate concerns are addressed, Director of Residential and Greek Life and Assistant Dean of Student Life Jackie Weber conducts an investigation.
During this time, any witnesses and/or evidence, including social media posts, text messages and voice recordings, are gathered.
Weber said that a college process is different than a legal one because the threshold of evidence is different.
“Our decision as an institution is, ‘Did a college policy violation happen?’”
The Sexual Conduct Policy, which can be found on page 66 of the Student Handbook, states that “Sexual Misconduct occurs when any form of sexual activity takes place without informed or effective consent. Informed or effective consent is the core of Westminster’s Sexual Conduct Policy.”
After Weber’s investigation, the information is given to Haslag, who then starts communication with the complainant and respondent. He said he handles a lot of the logistics from there and turns the information over to the hearing board, which determines whether or not a policy has been broken. The members of the hearing board can be replaced by another trained member if there is a conflict of interest.
Sarah Munns, a member of the hearing board, said the board reviews the document that has been prepared in advance of the hearing.
“We don’t ask them to relive the situation because we have read the statement in advance,” she said.
During the hearing process, the complainant and respondent are never required to be in the same room. However, there are places on campus where they can listen in and not be face-to-face if they make that decision. Because it is not a legal case, lawyers cannot be present.
After the hearing board meets, they give a recommendation to Haslag, who then makes any decisions regarding sanctions.
The hearing board is not aware of respondents’ previous conduct, but Haslag is and makes the sanctions accordingly. Sanctions can range from a warning to expulsion. Weber added that sanctions can also be developmental and not strictly punitive.
Haslag said both parties are notified of the outcome in a formal letter simultaneously.
An appeal can be made if there are any new findings, there was a failure to follow the procedure or if the respondent wishes to appeal excessive sanctions.
Following Thursday’s panel discussion, students had the opportunity to ask questions.
When asked why the campus is not notified of incidents, the panel said timely warnings are only sent out if there is a threat of imminent danger with unknown factors.
Before concluding, Lacey said that she wanted to acknowledge that although the discussion was very procedural, it is also very emotional.
Munns said that this is why Green Dot, a bystander intervention program to prevent power-based violence, is so important.
“We want people to be involved to help prevent this,” she said.
A Green Dot intensive bystander training session was held on campus Saturday.