Concerns raised about number of reported assaults

Faculty Senate Meeting/Shepherd Judicial Process

SHEPHERDSTOWN – Shepherd University faculty expressed concern in a recent meeting that the number of reported assaults at the University is inaccurate based on national statistics that show that one in four college-age women will experience sexual violence.

“We don’t try to sneak anything under the carpet,” said David Cole, the dean of students. “We absolutely, positively go through every case.” Cole met with Shepherd Faculty Senate Feb. 16 to discuss, among other things, the judicial process that takes place when an act of interpersonal violence, or sexual assault, is reported.

He assured faculty that university officials and police can only work with the cases that are reported.

When a case is reported, the victim, or complainant, is first sent to counseling services where the counselors give them options about what they can do. However, all reported incidents, whether they are investigated or not, must be logged by the police under the national Clery Act.

This law requires colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their campuses.

If the complainant decides to pursue the case, the police will handle the criminal side through civil courts. Simultaneously, the campus judicial system will investigate using the code of conduct, Cole said.

“I have to review the evidence and decide if there is enough to charge a student with a violation of the code of conduct,” Cole said. If there is, a hearing is called against the respondent before the University conduct board.

The student conduct board is made up of three members, usually two faculty or staff members and one student. In cases of sexual misconduct, the board is composed of only faculty members trained to respond to sexual assault cases.

“We want to protect the anonymity of the student coming forward and reporting,” Cole said.

Both the complainant and the respondent are present for the hearing, but if the complainant is uncomfortable, accommodations are made for them. In a case last year, Cole said, the complainant was allowed to stay in a separate room in which she could communicate to the conduct board via a phone call. In other cases, complainants have been separated from the respondents by a curtain in the room.

Safety and security for victims of sexual misconduct is a priority for Cole and the other staff in charge of reviewing these cases, he said. A sexual assault victim advocate is also assigned to each complainant, and acts as their support and guide throughout the hearing process.

At the hearings, the board members hear evidence from both parties, according to Cole. The respondent must be able to present their side of the case to give them their due process under the law.

The board then makes a decision based on the evidence from both sides, Cole said.

Cole said that effort is given to report and act on cases of sexual misconduct. Residence assistants on campus are required to report any evidence of sexual assault or abuse that they become aware of, even if it is not directly reported to them, he said.

Rhonda Jackson, Shepherd’s sexual assault response coordinator, then proactively reaches out to that student and offers them help without the victim ever needing to look for help themselves.

“We do an excellent job of providing services and assistance to students involved in these cases,” Cole said. “But the bottom line is it is up to the complainant about what they want to do.”

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