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McCaskill's final campus sexual assault roundtable focuses on prosecutions, administrative processes
McCaskill's final campus sexual assault roundtable focuses on prosecutions, administrative processes

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 23, 2014) — Convening stakeholders from across the country, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill today hosted the last in a series of public roundtable discussions aimed at curbing sexual assaults on college campuses — in which participants heard about current obstacles in protecting and empowering survivors, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of survivors pursuing the criminal justice system versus administrative processes to hold perpetrators accountable.

“As a former prosecutor, having been on the frontlines of the fight against sexual assault, I want to do everything possible to ensure that these crimes are prosecuted and that the perpetrators of crimes are punished to the fullest extent of the law,” McCaskill said. “But as a former prosecutor, and as a lawmaker, I know that our criminal justice system isn’t always perfect, and hasn’t always been willing or able to handle sexual assault cases—particularly cases involving survivors who were acquainted with the perpetrator and may have been intoxicated, which is the fact pattern we often see in college sexual assault cases.”

Click THIS LINK to view photos from today’s roundtable.

“Educational institutions have a role to play here too,” McCaskill added. “They have a commitment to their students and to their community, and when incidents of sexual violence happen they have an obligation to investigate what happened, support the survivor, ensure a safe campus for all students, and, if the facts bear it out, punish the offender for violating the school’s code of conduct. The problem is colleges and universities haven’t always done that. They may have ignored the problem, swept it under the rug and hoped the survivor would give up and go away.”

Obstacles discussed at today’s roundtable potentially hindering the effort to hold perpetrators accountable include:

· the challenge of an effective forensic interview conducted with a survivor as quickly as possible,
· problems stemming from multiple overlapping jurisdictions,
· lack of written protocols or memorandums of understanding,
· problematic state statutes around definitions of consent,
· questions of whether students should or should not serve on schools’ administrative boards,
· difficulties with requirements for timely warnings of assaults to campus communities,
· lack of necessary funding resources, and
· the proliferation of alcohol on campuses.

Katharina Booth, chief trial deputy of the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Unit at the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office in Colorado, acknowledged the challenge of multiple authorities “stepping on each other’s’ feet … when there are multiple levels … we have different charges … and sometimes those are at odds.”

Cornell University Police Chief Kathy Zoner agreed and discussed efforts to ensure victims “get to the right place off the bat,” to maximize the potential for a timely process.

The comparative strengths and weaknesses in the criminal and administrative processes were discussed at length at today’s roundtable.

“Some people want public vindication through the courts,” explained Yale University law student Alexandra Brodsky. “Some people just want an extension on their English paper, or to not have to see their rapist in their dorm the following day.”

“What’s right for one survivor is not what’s right for another,” added Detective Carrie Hull from the Ashland Police Department in Oregon.

“These cases are hard cases,” McCaskill said. “[But] they are makeable if victims have the right interview, if we have the right evidence, if it’s as close as possible to the event. A lot of this is about corroborating the victim … when you have a ‘he said, she said’… how do we have a system that is multi-jurisdictional … but that, at its center, is making sure that the victim gets as much information as possible as quickly as possible …?”

Deputy Chief Jennifer Gaffney of the Special Victim’s Bureau at the New York County District Attorney’s Office, explained that student survivors may be consistently told of the negative consequences of pursuing criminal charges, without being told of the positives, “[such as] more evidence gathered more quickly—and that it’s a more permanent result,” with Brodsky adding that she was told explicitly not to go to the police, but that she “never would have come forward if [she] had been forced into that option.”

Other participants at today’s roundtable discussion included: Nancy Chi Cantalupo, research fellow at the Victim Rights Law Center and adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center; Ohio State University Police Chief Paul Denton; and Rebecca O’Connor, Vice President for Public Policy at RAINN.

McCaskill is surveying colleges and universities to learn exactly how schools handle rapes and sexual assaults on campuses—specifically focusing on how such crimes are reported and investigated and how students are notified about available services. The survey will gauge the effectiveness of federal oversight and enforcement under Title IX and the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act, commonly known as the Clery Act. Click THIS LINK to view a sample survey.

See video highlights of McCaskill’s previous two roundtables at  THIS LINK and THIS LINK.

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