The University amended its policy for dealing with sexual assault on campus by expanding definitions and using stronger language to discourage sexual assault.
The added or expanded definitions include the terms “consent,” “rape,” “sexual harassment,” “sexual assault” and “stalking.” The changes came as part of the University’s update to the Student Handbook, which went into effect in June.
The Sexual Assault Working Group, made up of representatives from the Counseling Center, Wellness Center, Washington College of Law and Women’s Initiative and others began discussing potential policy changes in January 2009.
The working group presented their proposal to Vice President of Campus Life Gail Hanson in March of 2010, The Eagle previously reported.
The policy branch of the working group met to assess what the campus lacked in terms of resources for dealing with sexual assault.
The previous version of the Student Conduct Code failed in some key areas, according to Women’s Initiative Director Quinn Pregliasco, who did not serve on the SAWG when they approved the changes but is on it now.
“One of the things [the code] was missing was that it didn’t discuss what sexual assault was, what the difference was in various things such as rape and stalking,” Pregliasco said.
The new definitions added are meant to cover that gap.
The new code defines “stalking” as “repeated, unwanted contact with any person, including by electronic means or by proxy, or the credible threat of repeated contact with the intent to place a reasonable person in fear for his or her safety or for the safety of his or her family or close acquaintances.”
The lack of clarity in the prior code and reported incidents of stalking on campus — where victims included undergraduates as well as law students and faculty — prompted the addition of this definition, according to Pregliasco.
Pregliasco praised the revised code’s use of stronger language in the discussion of sexual assault and misconduct but thinks things could still be improved.
“One of the discussions around [the code] was that a code of conduct is very neutral and should be very straightforward and very objective, and I know that [former Women’s Initiative Director] Sarah Brown felt very passionately that it needed to be blatant that these things are wrong and are not to be committed,” Pregliasco said.
One of the stronger statements appears in the opening of the Sexual Assault Procedures for Students section.
“The university does not tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind, in any context,” the statement reads. “Intimidating or forcing a person into sexual activity violates American University’s stated values and policies and is punishable with severe actions.”
The code identifies “harassment and stalking,” “rape,” “sexual harassment” and “sexual assault” as separate acts of prohibited conduct.
There is also a “things to think about” section in the code.
“Consent takes different forms in different relationships,” the section reads. It then includes a list of what some of those forms could be, saying that each is related because “they are grounded in an attitude of respect.”
Many focus on the idea that consent is not implicit and must be achieved for every instance of sexual engagement.
Pregliasco said she thinks the misunderstanding of consent is still an issue that plagues the University and other institutions around the country.
“Everyone, before engaging in sexual activity, should understand what consent is,” Pregliasco said.
The University updates the Student Handbook annually and releases it each summer.
Staff writer Allie Mooney contributed to this report.