On Feb. 1, Penn officially implemented a new set of policies regarding sexual assault. The changes led a group of Penn Law School professors to write an open letter of criticism and continue to bring mixed reactions among Penn faculty and students.
The new policies focus on the appointment of a new sexual violence investigation officer, a change that separates cases of sexual assault from other student conduct cases, such as academic integrity infractions. According to the policy, the officer investigates both sides of the situation and recommends specific consequences on a case-by-case basis. If either party does not agree with the recommendations, the outcome of the issue is determined by an all-faculty panel. Prior to the introduction of the new policies, all cases were presented to a student and faculty panel.
Professor of Criminology Emily Owens believes that the policies are too similar to civil legal procedures for a situation that demands criminal legal proceedings, and that Penn is not prepared to handle such serious problems as sexual assault.
“Sexual assaults are crimes. They’re state offenses. And the University of Pennsylvania is not a government,” Owens said. “It’s not obvious to me that the University is equipped to replace a criminal court.”
Owens also believes the policies should address the issue of underreporting. Among collegiate women between the ages of 18 and 24, only 20 percent of incidents are actually reported. Common reasons for not reporting assaults include knowing the assailant, believing that the process would be too costly and feeling like the incident is not serious enough.
“My biggest concern is about underreporting, and I don’t know that there is a right solution for Penn,” Owens said. “It’s a very hard problem to solve.”
Although Owens is critical of the policies, she acknowledged that dealing with the issue is an extremely difficult task.
“Until I see if this works, which no one knows, I can’t say this is obviously the solution I would want to see,” Owens said. “Theoretically, it is not obvious what the right solution is.”
Some students, on the other hand, feel more positively about the changes.
“It’s the best thing they could have done, given previous circumstances,” College freshman Kevin Vitalis Kudah said.
Specifically, Kudah supports Penn’s decision to hire a sexual violence expert to handle cases. “In that way, more results are actually achieved because if an expert is dealing with an issue, then chances of getting a better output are better, naturally,” he added.
Nursing sophomore Jackie Nikpour said the policy improves on what she felt was a relatively distant approach to dealing with sexual assault. “A lot of the policies before were very hands off,” she said.
Nikpour also supports the new policies because she feels they increase student safety.
“The University has a responsibility to make its students feel safe on campus,” she said. “I feel like with the new policy they’re really taking charge of that.”
Nikpour said that she hopes the University’s sexual assault support system will be as universally trusted as the walking and riding escort programs.
“If you are sexually assaulted or you know someone who is, this is a reliable source that you can go to,” she said. “There should be that same level of trust as there is in other safety services that the University provides.”
But students do not necessarily believe that the policies are without flaw. Kudah supports the policy changes, but he believes that more should be done to prevent situations where investigations are necessary in the first place and that the sexual assault education programs provided during New Student Orientation are not sufficient.
“I think they should focus more on prevention,” he said. “Find other ways of making sure that people are well-informed about it.”
Nikpour also feels that Penn has definite progress to make. “Hopefully in the next few months, in the next couple of years, there will be greater progression,” she said. “I feel like this is a step in the right direction, but it is only a step.”Comments powered by Disqus
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