College changes old procedures after alleged rape last spring

The College has changed its policies regarding how it handles students who report they have been sexually assaulted. The review of the College’s procedures began after a female student, Maryl Gensheimer ’05, alleged that the College mishandled her situation when she reported being sexually assaulted by Mark Foster (then a sophomore) last March, in a case that has been widely reported. Gensheimer is currently studying away and Foster is not on campus. Foster was indicted on one count of rape on May 23 and pleaded not guilty on June 16.

Dean Roseman said three problems occurred when Gensheimer contacted the College’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). When she first spoke with a SART member, she was not given a pamphlet listing resources and options for survivors of sexual assault.

The Health Center also failed to alert Campus Security in a timely manner about the assault, which meant the Williamstown Police Department (WPD) was not notified either. In addition, Gensheimer was not told of her ability to pursue a case through the WPD. Whether to inform the survivor of the option to go to the police immediately is a point of contention among experts on sexual assault. Gensheimer, however, was angered that the SART member she spoke with did not offer her the option. “My focus should have been on surviving, not on making the College realize something had happened and getting them to do something about it,” Gensheimer told The Boston Globe in a June 3 article.

Dean Roseman, in consultation with other administrators and a staff member at the Elizabeth Freeman Center, has since changed some of the SART policies. “The most significant change we made was to eliminate individualistic counseling.  When a student is first seen by a SART member, that member would sometimes make decisions on what information was offered at that particular moment due to the student’s state of mind or personal circumstance,” Roseman said.

“Our new policy is. . .even if a student does not say they were sexually assaulted, but gives any indication that that is what has happened (this is not uncommon, where a student understandably has difficulty naming what happened – but usually can later), the SART member is to deliver all the appropriate information about College procedures and procedures that occur if the student chooses to go to the hospital or to the local police.”

Roseman also said a checklist has been created for the SART members to make sure they cover all of the information they are supposed to.

In addition, SART members are now required to inform Jean Thorndike, director of Campus Safety, if they believe a sexual assault has taken place, even if the student has not directly stated he or she has been assaulted. “Even if a student doesn’t say they were assaulted, if the SART member perceives that that is where they are headed, they are to report it to Director Thorndike, who then officially reports it to the WPD as a John or Jane Doe,” Roseman said.

Beyond the changes in procedure when a student contacts a SART member, Roseman said the sexual assault brochure that was supposed to be given to Gensheimer has been updated and information on sexual assault on the College’s website has been improved. Additonally, Roseman said, “I’m going to put out an explanation on what exactly happens when a student brings a sexual assault allegation to the Dean’s office for disciplinary action.”

Roseman said some positive changes have occurred as a result of the Gensheimer case. “We had a wonderful forum on this issue last Spring, sponsored by the Hotline [The Rape and Sexual Assault Network] and College Council,” Roseman said. “Out of that, the HotLine is planning to put together some information that I believe will go a long way in helping educate the campus.  I’m particularly excited by their idea of doing work that will help students communicate with each other around issues of sex, saying no, and understanding consent.”

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