At FSU, we put the woman’s wishes first

Nuri Ducassi / MCT

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


    Senators earn an ‘A’ for sexual assault bill

    Sen. Marco Rubio doesn’t have much time for Democrats. But he does have two daughters. And so it was that Wednesday morning, he found himself standing in solidarity with a bipartisan group of senators that included Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill as they announced legislation to curb the scourge of sexual assault on U.S. campuses.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">HARASSMENT:</span> Members of the Ladies in White opposition movement, relatives of imprisoned dissidents who draw inspiration from their faith, were arrested during a peaceful march in Havana last month.


    Support religious freedom in Cuba

    This year marks the 55th anniversary of Cuba’s current government and July 26 commemorated the 61st anniversary of the revolution which swept it into power. After coming to power, the Castro government broke its pro-democracy pledges and, despite recent improvements, maintains a problematic record on human rights, including religious freedom.



    Easy fix to offer relief to immigration courts

    Much has been written about the strain placed on the immigration court system by the recent influx of minors from Central America. A little known fact about the Immigration Court system, unlike every court in the land, virtually no immigration court cases are resolved without a hearing.

Miami Herald

Join the

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