As the College community grapples with the fallout from an account of a sexual assault case made public by former student Lexie Brackenridge, we at the Record condemn all forms of victim blaming, whether physical or emotional, past or present – this kind of reaction to sexual assault cases discourages survivors from reporting their assaults and hinders their recovery. In situations where evidence is often convoluted, we as a community must respect the privacy and well-being of those involved rather than pass judgment and accusations.
Under the assumption that Brackenridge’s allegations – that the College did not adequately support and protect her after she brought her sexual assault case to the administration – are substantiated, we at the Record commend the College for pledging to continue to examine its processes for investigating sexual assault and supporting survivors through their recovery process. That being said, we acknowledge that, in this and all cases involving sexual assault, the College is bound by its policies – as well as federal law – to maintain strict confidentiality, and thus is not able to address Brackenridge’s case directly.
One of the most upsetting of Brackenridge’s allegations is that the College explicitly discouraged her from pursuing a criminal investigation to avoid bureaucratic hassle, and rather encouraged her to adjudicate the case via the College’s disciplinary process instead. While the stress and bureaucracy of pursuing a criminal investigation is obviously relevant to college students’ lives, it also may be an excuse on the College’s part to avoid potentially tarnishing criminal cases. If for whatever reason survivors of sexual assault are being discouraged from certain options through which they can pursue redress, this practice cannot continue.
Furthermore, Brackenridge alleges she was not adequately protected from harass- ment at the hands of her assailant’s friends. In light of Brackenridge’s account that she was physically and emotionally abused as a result of going forward with her case, the College should re-evaluate its procedures by which it protects survivors from any and all repercussions associated with reporting their case. Helping survivors feel safe at the College should be a top priority, and under the assumption that the failings raised by Brackenridge’s allegations can be substantiated, those administrators who disregarded her harassment concerns should be held accountable. If individual students were victimizing Brackenridge for reporting her case, we feel that the College should have done its utmost to investigate and punish those students.
Regardless of the particulars of Brackenridge’s case, or any sexual assault case brought to the College’s attention, any time the College acts in a way that can be perceived as negligent is a major failing and should be investigated.
However, whether or not the decision to suspend Brackenridge’s assailant for three semesters was the correct decision, we at the Record would like to encourage the administration to continue to rely on a case-by-case sanction policy, rather than a mandatory sanction of expulsion for sexual assault or rape cases. Mandatory sanctions can obfuscate objective decision-making when the (often complicated) details of a case are being examined.
That said, the fear of “ruining lives” is not a good standard to decide whether to suspend or expel students found in violation of the sexual assault policies in the student handbook; when deciding punishment for guilty parties, survivors’ concerns
for personal safety should be of primary concern, and weighed against the fact that the College operates under low burden of proof for guilt (more likely than not). Additionally, the College should guarantee due diligence to prove that students found guilty of sexual assault and rape will not be threats to the community if they are to be allowed to return; violations of the student handbook committed by students under suspension should also be viewed with heightened scrutiny.
We would, however, like to commend the College for updating their sexual assault investigation process. The decision to bring in external investigators to examine sexual assault cases is a positive development, and removing students (who once comprised half of the disciplinary committee) from the adjudication process will also result in more objective handling of sexual assault cases in the future. We at the Record hope that Brackenridge’s allegations will spur the administration to further devote the College’s resources to addressing the scourge of sexual assault.
Finally, we would like to address the statements by the Brackenridge family, as well as faculty members and others involved in the case, that suggest that certain sports teams and demographics on campus are more likely to commit sexual assault. We believe this is a dangerous blanket statement that risks creating unsubstantiated accusations and potentially alienating a portion of the student body. If a pattern of sexual assault, harassment or promotion of rape culture can be explicitly linked to a specific group of students, it should obviously be investigated thoroughly, but cases of sexual assault are by no means limited to specific ages, affiliations or backgrounds.