No excuses can be tolerated for Washington’s rambling and inadequate response to sexual misconduct on college campuses. Having six public university systems with six different methods of handling reports of sexual assault and harassment fails to support or protect victims, while perpetrators dodge hectic bureaucracy.
These systems should be strengthened and managed in a uniform way, rather than the hodgepodge approach. Over the past five years, public universities in Washington have handled at least 492 reports of student sexual misconduct, each of which needs to be integrated into a clear and consistent system focused on protecting victims. Without a centralized policy, the experiences of each campus are not used to improve the proofs of others. What a waste of chance to learn.
As detailed in a disturbing March 6 report by Asia Fields of The Times, urgent reform is badly needed. Too often, a student reporting sexual abuse weaves its way through opaque bureaucracy, with the college investigation accompanied by a criminal justice response. Some of this overlap is unavoidable. Sexual offenses on campuses, or within a school’s larger community, require both academic and courtroom consequences, which means two different investigative missions with different standards. different responsibilities.
State universities must do better to recognize the burden this places on every student, staff, or faculty member who reports being victimized, and improve safeguards to protect victims’ access to education. and life goals.
It starts with developing a careful and consistent approach that focuses on the protection and recovery needs of survivors, as well as accountability. Often in the current setup, victims face systemic barriers while offenders ignore toothless answers. An example of how the system is failing now: At Western Washington University, no-contact orders issued by the administrator between victim and abuser are not shared with campus police. A university spokesperson said it was because the orders were not criminal. But the practice leaves survivors stranded, as WWU student Holly Maggard discovered. She reported an assault in 2015. She got a school-issued no-contact order. The other student ignored the ban and entered during her shift. Police and an administrator stood aside so the attacker could eat his lunch, mocking the alleged protection.
More needs to be done to put the lives of victims first. Expected Federal Policy Changes this spring to improve Title IX protections and add new ones for transgender students, are a start. Now Washington’s public universities must stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Each campus has a different system where sexual misconduct is handled differently by panels of faculty, students, or administrators, depending on the location. At Washington State University, administrative law judges decide cases. This inconsistency is absurd, six long years later a 2016 legislative inquiry analyzed the absence of good statewide policy, finding some schools with “mini-courtrooms with pre-hearing motions and discovery orders.”
That’s what the real court is for. Campus processes need clear standards for expulsion, suspensions, enforcement of no contact orders, counseling and survivor support. A student who is sexually abused and watches campus administrators mess things up can go off the rails in their pursuit of a degree and life goals, while the offender suffers little.
Listen to survivors. They have lived through the systems and know the flaws. Fix those with a consistent structure, otherwise the campus response will continue to fail the victims who need it the most.