Evidence 101

EVIDENCE 101...Wherever you go, there you are...

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

P words: People, Processes, Policies, Procedures, PUH-LEASE stop making it hard

So what the what is going on with universities and sexual assault cases? Don't forget to add in FERPA and HIPAA and all those other regulations which sometimes ties the hands of administrators.  Let me disclose that many administrators, medical personnel, and the general public are confused on these two laws.

This IU case is unique because the administrator was accused of sexual misconduct but the complaints are not unique. Having the go to person being accused as a predator is a whole 'nother ball of wax, so don't get worked up about that being the issue on most campuses.  But I use it as a hot topic because other students are crying out their cases were mishandled when they went to student life administrators.

What can universities do to improve? I will help shed my opinions and suggestions, of course, but then I will receive expected discussion for or against those ideas and maybe some backlash. Remember, this comes from a cop displaced at a university. Be gentle on the lashings.

Why are the universities bottle necking these disclosures? Short answer: They don't know what to do. It's like sit and spin. Oh shit, Mertle, we have one of THOSE claims on campus. Focus, man. It ain't that difficult. Step one. Make us invisible! Second, sweep it under the rug. Nah. Just kidding.

Universities first order of panic is reputation of them and the suspect. I shit you not. They don't want to discredit a suspect nor do they want to discount a victim. But it seems like the latter is done first before they get their poop in a group. What should they do?

This is so simple that I am so confused as to why decades after I went to college this still seems to be a problem. Erg. And we are over the days of covering up for athletes. I hope.

First, if a student discloses a felony crime to an administrator, are they considered clergy? No. They have no obligation to keep it quiet from police, especially if it is a campus problem. Then what? Why is it taking 60 days or more to process a report to higher ups? Short answer: because the process is stupid.

These cases should be handled and forwarded for review within two days of reporting, complete with a detailed report of actions and any ongoing reporting to follow. This is held up for one reason or another which aren't viable and mostly because universities do not embrace police involvement or action of any kind.

Why are they slow? I think because universities feel they have to have everything perfect and make sure they aren't violating some law or ethics but in the process of that, they do no justice. Plus, this opens the door for liability issues.

Once a disclosure is made, the victim should be encouraged to report to police and that administrator should right then and there offer the PoPo's assistance by making a phone call on behalf of the victim. Is the victim under 18? Then it must be mandated to report to police and parents. Is the victim over 18? This is where the fuzz starts to cloud university judgement. What is the university's obligation if the victim refused to report to police? This is the mystery question which seems to baffle the admins.

It depends on state law. If there is any mandated reporting issues, this should be disclosed to the student. Now the university police is an extension of the university so I think you now have a conflict if you don't report it to the university police because of liability issues. Is there a confidentiality law for sexual assault disclosure? Secret code? I have never heard such a thing. If the police contact the victim and he or she refused to cooperate, that is on the victim. This should all be relayed to the victim upon first meeting or hearing of the disclosure. Give them steps. Give it to them in writing if you must. Give them a victim's rights sheet or card to take with them. Make it known what the university can and can't do, will do, and offer services. Make it policy. Let them know upfront. Encourage the truth and forthright disclosure immediately.

Oh, but it's *(shudder)* the police. We must not involve the police. Wrong, you dodos, this is absolutely a police matter and out of your hands. You should be ashamed. You should shift liability. Dumb.

Additionally, what liability issues does the university have as far as suspect-victim interaction? Does the suspect live in the same residential area as the victim.  Should separation be considered? Victim's choice? What about classes? What about innocent before proven guilty?

Here's my two cents. The university in the least should offer victim services, counseling, and any emotional support necessary. The housing situation or class schedules should be discussed with the victim student and housing contracts should not get in the way of doing what is right, liable, or makes the victim feel better. The case might never be proven in a court of law or there may not be enough evidence. That is all on the police, not the university. Ultimately, a victim should not be punished or have to suffer from processes. However, a university can't upset the world just for one victim student. The processes have to be the same for all.

At the same time, the suspect can't be publicly scrutinized, defamed, flogged, or punished by the university unless criminal charges prevail a conviction, right? Not necessarily. What about student conduct agreements? Are they binding for expelling a student just based upon an accusation? Are accusations enough to expel a student? I would say not and that would certainly give the student suspect ammunition to sue. So what can the university do? Unfortunately, it might mean moving the victim from his or her current residence or changing their classes. It's just the way it is.

And then there is that big fat elephant in the room which includes false accusations and false reporting. It happens. This adds to why there should be concrete procedures in place.

What happens if nothing can be proven or there isn't enough evidence? The processes and procedures in place should be the same. Again, you can't persecute a suspect without proof or evidence, but you can take steps to assist the victim with safety issues and emotional support.

But what is the obligation to keep the victim feeling safe?  Does the university have to provide a guard or escort to class? No, but there are often those Samaritan services on campus. Furthermore, a university cannot be held responsible for crimes happening on a student's off time or off campus. Correct. Maybe. Is there a question about this? Once a situation is reported, they should act on behalf of the victim and offer services. A university can assess the classroom logistics and residential safety of a student to review if any changes are needed or requested.

Sometimes I think universities make everything too hard. Much of this is because they sit on their thumbs. No one likes accusations of sexual assault on campus. But universities are like little cities and this stuff happens everywhere. Schools are not secret safe bubbles against the world.

Is it going to get down to a contract prior to having a student disclose? I hope not, but it seems like it is. For instance, the university might leave the victim student with a signed victim's rights sheet displaying what the university offers, what they can and can't do, and detailing responsibilities of the student. It's that stupid. Why? Because we coddle and make it too hard.

Being a victim shouldn't be bound by a contract but at the same time expectations of reality should not be covered with fairy dust that a university is going to cure the problem and be an end all destination for justice. Universities need to have set policies, swift action, and upfront disclosures of obligations and duties with services in place.

Again, not trying to sound harsh, but there is responsibility on the victim as well. In today's age, it shocks me that students jump on law suits because a school did not put them in a bubble and tell the world Johnny Jones is a rapist. And finally, expectations versus reality gets us all in the balls. You can't demean a victim and you have to take all disclosures seriously and put each through all the procedures.


Cheryl said...

OMG...One of the ten million reasons I wouldn't ever want to be in law enforcement. Sounds like a jumbled up mess. I have followed several cases of alleged sexual attacks on campuses (just because the were in the news or affiliated with colleges that I am familiar with) and it sounds like the university is sometimes at odds with local police. I understand the university is trying not to put out any image that they don't protect their students and as you pointed out there are false allegations as well. I, personally, wouldn't want to be in the position of trying to figure out the "he said" and "she said" as I suspect immature kids that have parents and peers to deal with make poor choices and often don't feel the need to tell the complete truth about the events. Not saying that there aren't victims or people that victimize but getting a real and truthful account has to be next to impossible.

Bob G. said...

Momma Fargo:
BINGO...you nailed the TEN RING on this one.

Campuses have become higher learning venues in TOO many ways, not the least of which is sexual MISadventures (between teacher and student, which we find all the way down into the early high school years now with more frequency), and the subsequent lawsuits from the "slip & fall" lawyers.

Not to mention, it's becoming an increasing source of student DEBT (long term), irresponsible financial behavior and tailored to those who would teach other agendas.

I think you'll find my post today speaks to much of the problems from the Millennials.
Kinda like a "glove that fits the hand", as it were.

Very good post.

Roll safe down there, dear.