A New York Times article this week recounted how an 18-year-old freshman reported her rape and regretted doing so after Hobart and William Smith Colleges held her disciplinary hearing. According to the New York Times article, “panelists interrupted her answers, at times misrepresented evidence and asked about a campus-police report she had not seen. The hearing proceeded before her rape-kit results were known, and the medical records indicating trauma were not shown to two of the three panel members.”
The main takeaway from this is that first responders, law enforcement officers, and officials from Higher Education can re-traumatize the sexual assault victim.
I know a great deal about this because, after my sexual assault at an Atlanta hotel in 1990, security officials created secondary victimization for me by escorting me to security offices of the hotel and placing me just feet from a man they believed was the perpetrator. I realized instantly they had apprehended the wrong man, but in that split second, the man lunged toward me and violently screamed at me, “You [email protected]@#$ing bitch, I didn’t do this you!” I was already traumatized from the robbery and sexual assault which had occurred in the hour before, but this secondary victimization was absolutely absurd and should have never taken place.
In the opinion of the freshman student, the three panelists did the same to her.
Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who has investigated the quality of campus rape investigations. recently surveyed 440 colleges and universities and found that one-third had failed to properly train officials adjudicating claims.
While the national debate continues over how best to stop sexual assaults on campuses, we must also roll up our sleeves and start educating higher education officials on how to prevent secondary trauma. I plan to speak on this subject next month at the Police Officers Association of Georgia. Stay tuned…