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Sexual Assualt policy in need of revision

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The Dean of Students Office at the University of Arizona says it is committed to serving all student cases of alleged sexual assault, but a study of code of conduct policies at peer institutions shows its outreach is falling short.


The UA does not have a clear and specific protocol for responding to issues of sexual assault on their Web site, www.deanofstudents.arizona.edu.

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""We can always do better at getting the information out to the students,"" said Jason Casares, assistant dean of students and Campus Safety Coordinator. ""I'm interested in looking at what other schools have. We are open to additional ways to get the information out there.


""If it were up to us, the process of reporting a case would be on the back of your CatCards,"" he said. ""We try to find as many ways as possible to get the information out to the students on how to report.""


Large universities around the country seem to be a step ahead of UA in delivering the transparency that is necessary for students to realize their resources when it comes to sexual misconduct.


The University of California, Los Angeles, through its office of Student Affairs, has a faculty, staff and student employee protocol outlining all the essential steps when responding to a sexual assault report, — along with a detailed sexual assault policy published in its Student Code of Conduct.


Tina Oakland, director of the Bruin Resource Center at UCLA and one of the authors of the protocol, said the procedure is essential for maintaining a healthy campus.


""We developed the sexual assault protocol back in 1983 and we pulled together a group of campus counselors, Santa Monica Rape Center experts, social workers, psychologists and medical personnel,"" Oakland said. ""We felt the protocol would insure that our university system is responsive to our students needs.""


Pennsylvania State University, a university with a similar student population size to the UA, has made ""Guidelines for Adjudicating Sexual Misconduct Cases"" easily accessible on the school's Web site.


""Much work has been done over the years to create a procedure for responding to sexual misconduct cases that takes into account some of the unique attributes of these allegations,"" according to the Penn State guidelines. ""For a number of years, Judicial Affairs worked closely with staff from the Center for Women Students and the Centre County Women's Resource Center in creating guidelines for responding to victims and accused students.""


Similarly, officials at the University of Colorado at Boulder said an easily accessible sexual assault policy and published protocol specifically for sexual assault have helped increase their response time, and the overall confidence CU-Boulder students have in their university.


""We believe the protocol, along with our administrative policy entitled, ‘Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedures,' has contributed to a more responsive and safer campus,"" said Jamal Ward, director of Judicial Affairs at CU-Boulder. ""We felt it was important for our campus to have a clear policy to guide our faculty, staff and student employees, who are often the first persons on campus to receive a report from an alleged victim of sexual assault or sexual harassment.""


The Dean of Students Office at the UA said it is committed to investigating every Student Code of Conduct violation case that is brought forth, but it is gravely important for students to step forward — specifically in cases of sexual assault, Casares said.


When students report to the Dean of Students, they are offered options in psychological treatment and counseling, and they have the choice to report to police or whether to press charges.


""We try to present the student with options, and it's up to he or she as to whether they have an interest in pursuing a particular resource,"" Casares said. ""If we do get a name of an accused person, we move forward if we feel there is a potential violation of the Code of Conduct. That triggers our office to send out a letter to the accused signaling that violation, and the student will come in a respond to the accusation.""


Even if the name of the accused is not given, the Dean of Students Office still has an obligation to respond to the alleged violation of the Student Code of Conduct, he said.


The Dean of Students also has an obligation to clearly present the entire sexual assault procedure online, or within easy access, so students can be better informed, said Tucson criminal attorney Steve Sherick of Sherick and Bleier.


The vagueness of the sexual assault information published online can be problematical. The Dean of Students must be more explicit in their sexual assault policy, and the procedure they conduct when investigating; otherwise the student body doesn't know how their case will be handled, Sherick explained.


""Nothing online is perfect. We need to do a better job at getting the information out there, but students also need to meet us in the middle. They have to actively seek out the information that is needed to be successful here on campus,"" Casares said.


The Dean of Students Office is investing into social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instant Messenger to reach out to students for safety and wellness concerns.


""We are trying to reach out to students, and students need to reach out to us so we can meet halfway,"" Casares said. ""We need to explore what our peer institutions are doing and if there is a better process out there, we have an obligation to our student body to do the same.""


Casares said the most important thing is for sexually assaulted students to know their resources, and the Dean of Students Office will help them through the process.


""We work really hard to ensure that whatever that sense of justice looks like for an individual, we try to provide that for them,"" he said.


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