In my four years at UM, I’ve tried to thoroughly understand how sexual assault is handled at our school and all other universities in the country. This curiosity (fascination, even) has unwittingly made me pretty well versed on the proper protocol.
After reading The Times article, A Star Player Accused and a Flawed Rape Investigation, I felt the legal gray area was a little confusing. Was it only the police department that screwed up? What about the school’s investigation?
So I conjured up a list to explain some of the biggest points and hopefully clear some things up:
1. In all sexual assault cases, the Department of Education makes it very clear that there should be two separate investigations: one by the governing law enforcement body (in this case, Florida State University Police Dept.) and the school (Florida State University).
The Dept of Education intends for the school to focus on helping the victim by promptly providing counseling, changing dorms or classes, and other obvious needs. According to Title IX, “ A school must take steps to protect the complainant as necessary, including interim steps taken prior to the final outcome of the investigation” and “A school must provide a grievance procedure for students to file complaints of sex discrimination, including complaints of sexual violence.”
2. All police departments that govern colleges and universities in the nation that receive national funding (like FSUPD), most report specific statistics to the Department of Education under the Clery Act.
Every school year the police department must provide the findings from the pervious calendar year. That means for the 2013-2014 school year the police dept. must provide the numbers for 2012 calendar year. Some of the crimes that must be reported are murder, manslaughter, sex offenses (forcible and non-forcible), robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and arson. A distinction is usually made whether the crimes occurred on campus or off. Only four schools are exempted from complying with the Clery Act because they do not accept national funding. Patrick Henry College is one of them and they gained notoriety for their handling of sexual assault.
3. In addition to the police investigation, the school is required by the Title IX amendment to conduct its own investigation.
“Once a school knows or reasonably should know of possible sexual violence, it must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred.”
4. Whether or not there is a criminal investigation being conducted by law enforcement, the school is required to take action if sexual violence has occurred.
According to Title IX, “If sexual violence has occurred, a school must take prompt and effective steps to end the sexual violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects, whether or not the sexual violence is the subject of a criminal investigation.”
5. The Title IX definition of sexual violence (used in the school investigation) is slightly different from the legal definition in the state’s statutes, which the police department uses in their investigation.
According to Title IX, “sexual violence means physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent. A number of acts fall into the category of sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion.” The legal definition in the Florida statutes is a little more complex, but defines sexual battery as “oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by, or union with, the sexual organ of another or the anal or vaginal penetration of another by any other object; however, sexual battery does not include an act done for a bona fide medical purpose.” You can read the statutues on sexual violence here and sexual battery here.
6. The school is required to provide “equal opportunity” to both sides.
According to Title IX, “These procedures must include an equal opportunity for both parties to present witnesses and other evidence and the same appeal rights.” This is meant to protect offenders from unsubstantiated claims, but many times force a victim to face their rapist.
7. While a court ultimately decides whether the offender is “guilty beyond reasonable doubt,” the school uses “the preponderance of evidence standard” to resolve these types of cases.
Preponderance of evidence is the standard used in civil cases. The standard is met if the allegation is more likely to be true than not. Once the school makes its decision it must notify both sides of the outcome.
8. The identity of victims are supposed to be protected.
On all public records, the victim’s identity is meant to be omitted. However, at many universities, students hear of allegations through word-of-mouth and harass the victim, like what happened with Jameis Winston’s alleged victim. There is no proper protocol listed by Title IX to protect the identities of student victims of sexual violence.
9. Florida State Universities’ sexual offenses (as reported by the Clery Act) are not higher than usual.
The 2013 numbers will be released in the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year. In 2012, there were five forcible sex offenses at FSU. In 2011, there were five forcible sex offenses at FSU. Comparatively, in the 2011 calendar year, there were nine forcible sex offenses at the University of Florida, one at Florida Atlantic University, three at Florida International University, one at the University of Southern Florida, and two at the University of Miami.
10. The school and the police department do not necessarily have to notify the other of alleged crimes.
Both are separate entities. For example, at UM, deans can advise that students file a report with the police dept., but the deans are not required to notify police. A student can also file a report with police, and the police officers are not required to notify the school either. Often times, however, both do which makes the protocol for sexual violence especially confusing (as they can overlap) to the victim –and students like me who try to make sense of it.