LTE: Confidentiality vital for survivors’ outcomes

Editor-in-Chief Will Wright wrote in his column “Secret campus trials endanger students” that the “secrecy” inherent in campus disciplinary hearings leads to negative outcomes for both survivors of sexual assault and those accused of the crime. However, his statements were largely based on opinion and misguided fear, not empirical research.

Firstly, there are already numerous barriers preventing survivors from reporting their assault. A 2010 study published in the Journal of American College Health found that the most common reasons survivors are reluctant to report are “(1) shame, guilt, embarrassment, not wanting friends and family to know; (2) concerns about confidentiality; and (3) fear of not being believed.” Another study released by the U.S Department of Justice entitled “Acquaintance Rape of College Students” reported that nearly 40% of sexual assault survivors feared retaliation from the perpetrator or the perpetrator’s friends if they decided to report.

Based on this research, requiring that disciplinary trials be public will not decrease the amount of assault on campus. It would only amplify the anxiety felt by survivors surrounding reporting, most likely leading to a significant decrease in the already startlingly low report rates. As indicated by the recent Campus Attitudes Toward Safety survey, more than one thousand UK students were sexually assaulted last year, but less than 200 reported to the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center or the campus authorities. Without reports, survivors cannot receive help and perpetrators cannot be punished, leading to negative outcomes for the survivor. A 2014 study conducted on UK’s campus illustrated a sharp drop in GPA for sexual assault survivors following the attack, in addition to lower retention rates. A campus that protects perpetrators is not a safe campus.

While Will’s argument seems to be good in intention (more accountability and justice are always good things), he neglects to consider the big picture surrounding sexual assault on campus and ignores the survivor’s voice. Public trials not only revictimize the survivor, but are a slap in the face to the “innocent until proven guilty” ideology of the U.S justice system, since the accused could face loss in employment and reputation long before a conclusion has been reached.

Considering the astounding amount of research surrounding sexual assault and survivor outcomes on college campuses, it is erroneous and dangerous to suggest that disciplinary hearings be public. The university would be creating a hostile environment for both the accuser and the accused, thus violating Title IX, which states that universities must work to reduce the harm survivors face in the aftermath of assault — not actively increase it by making them into a medieval public spectacle.

Charly Hyden is a psychology junior.

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