University Dilemma: When to Tell Campus About Sex Assaults

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When a student athlete at California’s San Jose State University was accused of sexually assaulting two women at an off-campus party over Labor Day weekend, the school acted decisively, the Associated Press reports. The student was ordered to stay away from the women involved and was moved from his dorm into a staff housing facility. He was also suspended from campus and team events pending the result of an investigation. University officials acted quietly, prompting many students to ask why they were kept in the dark about the alleged assaults. Fueling the criticism, the suspect, who was identified as an international student, left the U.S. as authorities investigated.

Legal experts say it’s a delicate issue. Students have an interest in knowing immediately if a perpetrator is on their campus. Schools also need to protect students’ privacy before an arrest is made or charges filed. One proposed solution is for schools to notify students of suspected assaults in police-blotter style, without divulging details that could identify suspects or victims. Given student concerns, San Jose State will review the way it responds in sexual assault cases. “I believe it is time to re-examine and consider changes to notification policies,” said President Mary Papazian. The case follows the high-profile trial of former Stanford University athlete Brock Turner, who was convicted of attacking a woman while she was passed out near a trash bin on campus last year. Turner’s six-month prison sentence prompted national outrage and ignited a debate about campus rape and the criminal justice system.

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