When a Georgetown University student learned that a fellow student she had accused of raping her would be suspended rather than expelled, she was outraged. In order to learn the results of the man’s campus disciplinary hearings, she had signed a form promising not to share them with anyone, except for her parents and one close adviser. Such confidentiality pledges have been standard on many college campuses. In response to the woman’s complaint, the U.S. Department of Education told Georgetown last week that its policy violates a federal campus crime law, reports the Washington Post. Campus safety watchdogs call the order a major victory for sexual assault victims.
The decision could encourage victims talk about the often secretive workings of collegiate disciplinary systems — and even warn fellow students about their alleged attackers, said S. Daniel Carter of Security on Campus Inc., a nonprofit group that monitors campus crime and judicial programs. Another view was expressed by Sheldon Steinbach of the American Council on education, who said that in sharing the outcome of campus hearings with victims, “the desire here is to help an individual through a difficult time, It is not designed as a hook for future litigation, nor for pillorying an individual.” The Department of Education’s order apparently applies only to cases involving sexual assault, under a 1992 law known as the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, which requires that victims receive information about disciplinary proceedings without any conditions or limitations.