Harassment, abuse cases remain issue at College
By Amanda Cohen, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Editor's note: This is the third of a three-part series examining sexual abuse toward women at Dartmouth.
The Committee on Standards convicted a Dartmouth student of sexual abuse last year, even though the victim had nothing to do with process. Like many victims, this student did not wish to report the case, and the incident was brought to COS by a third-party.
Underreporting creates one of the biggest obstacles in assessing the frequency of sexual abuse on campus. According to the "The Sexual Victimization of College Women" report by the National Institute of Justice, fewer than 5 percent of rape victims report the incident to law-enforcement officials.
"Dartmouth is a really complicated, close-knit, small community and chances are groups of friends overlap," Director of Counseling and Health Resources Mark Reed said. "The woman who was assaulted and usually the guy who accused run into similar groups, so then [to] the friends, it's hard to believe that this guy, who's a nice guy, could do this. And nobody wants to believe it -- even the woman herself doesn't often want to believe it," Reed said.
Other reasons victims may choose not to report include fear of being socially ostracized, not wanting to release other personal information such as sexual orientation or need to protect the perpetrator from getting in trouble, according to Reed.
"With that long list of why people don't come forward, it's amazing that anyone ever comes forward, period," Reed said.
Over the past years, the College has tried to increase victims' comfort in reporting incidences of assault, an endeavor that would result in increased rape and other sexual assault statistics at Dartmouth.
"Somewhere along the way, the question was asked, 'If this works and we start to see an increase in the number of cases reported, it is likely to catch someone's attention. It may be an issue,'" Dean of the College James Larimore said. "And very quickly the answer that we all settled on is 'so be it,'"
Those involved in sexual abuse prevention and counseling on campus believe that Dartmouth successfully created an environment that supports victims and encourages reporting, a belief used to justify the higher number of reported incidences of sexual assault on Dartmouth's campus compared to most other Ivy League schools.
"I'd like to think that [Dartmouth's higher number of reported rapes is] because we do a better job at making people comfortable reporting," Director of Safety and Security and College Proctor Harry Kinne said.
Larimore cited that other colleges, like Harvard, have imitated Dartmouth's Sexual Abuse Awareness Program as a reason to believe that SAAP has played a role in increasing victims' willingness to report. However, according to former Dartmouth Coordinator of the SAAP Susan Marine, who now works as Harvard's Director of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, Harvard's recently revamped sexual abuse program is not Dartmouth's.
"The only real similarity between our programs is the fact that I happen to have been involved with both," Marine said.
Although there is no way of proving that the increase in reports reflects an increase in percentage of cases reported and not a rise in incidences of sexual abuse at Dartmouth, a report released by Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, which notes a national pattern of increased reports of sexual abuse, also attributes the increase to more reporting, not more incidences of rape.
Kinne drew upon this idea that Dartmouth reflects greater society to explain the cases of sexual assault on campus, saying that Dartmouth community will always reflect society as a whole. Many campus officials who spoke with The Dartmouth expressed a similar belief, and further generalized the problem of sexual abuse at Dartmouth as relating to colleges and universities collectively. However, Larimore feels this explanation trivializes the trauma of individual incidences at the College.
"The challenge is that this shouldn't be seen as a reason to negate the importance of anybody's experience with [sexual assault]...I get pretty pissed off when people try to minimize the impact of just how critical this is," Larimore said.
Larimore stresses the need to confront sexual abuse on campus and speak openly about the topic, an opinion shared by Dartmouth faculty and staff in theory, although not always in practice, as some staff members requested that their strongest, most to-the-point statements regarding sexual abuse on campus and the plight of Dartmouth women be kept off the record, a fact that frustrated Larimore.
"If worry about having things taken out of context or sensationalized inhibits people from really speaking their minds, we all lose," Larimore said. "This is an area where we just can't afford to hold back from public discussion, and we can't afford to dumb down or quiet the conversation."
Larimore said that men can play the most important role in preventing sexual abuse against women, and many people on campus have turned to a much more pro-active method of prevention, focusing on the perpetrator's responsibility over the responsibility of the victim.
The need to educate students on the most basic level about sexual abuse is extremely important according to Sexual Abuse Peer Adviser and Mentor Against Violence Libby Hadzima '06.
"[SAPAs] hear time and time again [from female victims] that the perpetrator probably thinks they did nothing wrong. This really indicates there is still a misconception as well as a lack of awareness about consent and sexual assault," Hadzima said.
According to Reed, sometimes, men misconstrue the lack of a "no" for consent or assume that the victim physically or verbally demonstrates consent to engaging in intercourse even when he or she is incapacitated due to alcohol.
Helping to clarify the definition of consent is MAV, which will begin educating Dartmouth communities about sexual violence this term, pending requests from campus organizations for MAV's instruction.
Gamma Delta Chi fraternity, which is recognized for its large membership of football players, is the first group to take advantage of the program offered by MAV and request that mentors to speak with its members.
"We're really making an effort to challenge the stereotypes of football players at Dartmouth instead of hide from them," member Brian Osimiri '06 said. "A lot of us went to the 'B*tches in the Basement' at AD last fall and it opened our eyes to what SAPA and MAV were doing on campus. ... We also wanted to promote a good thing in our house."
Inspired by "B*tches in the Basement," Osimiri and Gamma Delt president Nick Stork '06 are currently training as SAPAs and contacted MAV to arrange a program at the house.
"We are hoping that the ideas that come out of that meeting would somehow lead to making fraternities a safer environment," Osimiri said.
The actions taken to prevent sexual abuse on campus reflect a growing effort this year on the part of the Dartmouth football team to eradicate the poor reputation that football players and Gamma Delt have developed in terms of mistreatment towards women.
During pre-season, football Head Coach Buddy Teevens had Reed talk to players about various issues of conduct on campus, including interactions with women. According to Reed, the players were receptive to the meeting and interested in the information Reed presented.
For some football players, the meeting with Reed was helpful, but did not provide new information.
"Mr. Reed gave us the stats, and every football player knows what the limits are," football player Anthony Arch '09 said. "It's a huge bias that people believe that football players perpetuate sexual abuse. We know what's right and what's wrong."
Since Teevens became head coach in January 2005, there has been a notable shift in the conduct of football players around campus.
"The perception [of Dartmouth football players] is lot better now. Deans, Mr. Reed and faculty all seem to know that Teevens wants a change and that the change is happening," Arch said.
While Teevens expressed concern about the reputation of the football team, his motivation to prevent campus sexual abuse via educating the players stems from his personal beliefs and experiences.
Since he works with football players, he explained, that is the community that he is most able to affect.
"It is a small college, a small community, and the opportunity to have a positive impact on campus is ever present," Teevens said.
Teevens has made his position on sexual abuse clear to his players and stresses zero tolerance, encouraging anyone who has been harmed by one of his players to contact him.
"I don't like to hear reasons or excuses. Just tell me, did you do the right thing or not?" Teevens said.
The "reasons or excuses" to which Reed refers often involves a claim of miscommunication or misunderstanding on the part of the perpetrator. According to both Reed and Kinne, the best way for a guy to be sure that his partner is consenting is to verbally ask, or when alcohol is involved, wait until both parties are sober to have sex. If all men follow these rules, cases of sexual abuse brought before COS will be much more clear-cut.
COS has already tackled more than one case of sexual abuse this academic year.
The results of this year's cases cannot yet be released due to confidentiality issues, but five of the eight cases brought before COS last year were found responsible with sanctions ranging from college discipline to six-term suspension.
April Thompson, director of Undergraduate Judicial Affairs, noted that often the only evidence is one person's word against another's. Not finding someone guilty is not the same thing as finding someone innocent, Thompson said.
COS cases require only a "preponderance of evidence," however, to find someone guilty of sexual assault, a rule that may seem favor the victim over the accused more so than in a legal court where a jury needs evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict.
The lack of evidence required by COS frightens some Dartmouth males who fear being falsely accused of sexual abuse.
"If I was to hook up with a girl when she was drunk and something comes up at a later date [and she became mad at me], she could bring up to the COS that she did not consent at the time and it's probably enough to accuse me of sexual abuse," Michael Gabel '09 said.
According to Reed, fewer than two percent of all reported cases of rape in the nation are false accusations, and therefore he does not see unwarranted allegations as a problem at Dartmouth.