CAMPUS RAPE

At FSU, we put the woman’s wishes first

 
 
MCT
MCT
Nuri Ducassi / MCT

studentaffairs@fsu.edu

So far the national conversation about campus rape has been largely about how colleges and universities need to get better at investigating and punishing perpetrators of student sexual assault. But as the recent landmark report from a White House task force makes clear, an overemphasis on rooting out the guilty loses sight of a very important thing: the welfare and wishes of victims.

Many victims simply are not able to pursue charges against their attackers in the weeks or months after the incident. They need time and privacy to heal from the trauma at their own pace. And sometimes, for some women, that means talking with someone to sort out their options without the fear of setting off Title IX alarms and losing control of the healing process.

“If victims don’t have a confidential place to go, or think a school will launch a full-scale investigation against their wishes, many will stay silent,” according to Not Alone, the report issued by President Obama’s Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.

At Florida State University, we know this from experience. For years, we have made the decision to put the victims — almost always women — first. Caring for women students has been a part of the university’s DNA since it became a women’s college in 1909.

Our Title IX process for handling sexual assaults was designed and is administered by women. And at the heart of that program is a corps of dedicated victim advocates that responds to every incident with support, counsel and advocacy.

Based on the White House report, our victim-advocate program could serve as a national model. These advocates stand at the center of a sexual-assault response network that includes health services, housing, student affairs, academic support and other services.

They have the authority to accompany victims to the police station, medical exams and legal proceedings. Victim advocates arrange for a safe place for students to stay, contact their professors to reschedule exams, change classes, obtain transcripts — even devise an escape plan if the victim were to run into her assailant. Our advocates also counsel “secondary victims” such as family members.

Most important, the advocates are trained to empower victims by placing their rights, needs and wishes at the center of the process. Among these is the right to confidentiality as she contemplates how to seek justice. Our advocates advise each victim of her rights to file a criminal and/or Title IX complaint — and they honor her wishes not to pursue either course if she isn’t ready or fears re-victimization by openly participating in criminal or campus proceedings.

A victim-centered approach will sometimes expose a university to certain reputational risks, especially in today’s emotionally and politically charged debate over campus safety. What alumni, parents and the media often label as a cover-up or an institutional lack of will may be — and very often is — a case of a victim advocate honoring state laws protecting confidentiality and heeding the forceful refusal of a client to talk to police or the Dean of Students office.

This is part of the balancing act FSU faces by putting victims first, a balancing act recommended by the president’s task force. Its report instructs universities that just as they must not refuse a victim’s request to file a complaint, “where a survivor does not seek a full investigation, but just wants help to move on, the school needs to respond there, too.”

None of this is to claim that FSU has been perfect in handling sexual-misconduct cases or that every victim is satisfied. No institution can say this. But our victim-centered approach has worked well in the majority of cases since we adopted it a decade ago, and we are gratified that the task force recognizes its value.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
DE LA O

    A JUDGE’S VIEW

    Judge has faith in the law, and in human potential

    I am a circuit judge in Miami-Dade County serving in the criminal division. Every day, I make decisions about whether to release defendants who are awaiting trial and whose families rely on them for basic needs; whether to grant requests by victims of domestic violence to remove stay-away orders that keep their families apart; and whether to sentence convicted defendants to prison, house arrest or probation.

  •  
MCT

    JUDICIAL ELECTIONS

    There’s got to be a better way to seat judges

    When I think of the traits that are essential for someone to be a good judge, I immediately identify characteristics such as legal ability and understanding of legal principles, courtroom experience, record and reputation, temperament and community involvement. As a Miami-Dade County voter, and as someone who has served on several endorsement panels for various organizations, I have serious concerns about the quality of the candidates that are running for this very important post. I also have reservations about the election process through which we are selecting the members of our lower courts.

  •  
Jack Orr cast the only vote in the Florida Legislature in support of school integration.

    JOHN B. ORR

    A man of vision, principle — and flaws

    It was 1956, and the Florida Legislature was considering a bill to get around the U.S. Supreme Court ruling barring racial segregation in schools. Only one of the 90 House members voted against the bill — a young lawyer from Miami named Jack Orr.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category