Senate supports witness advocates in assault process

 

Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate passed a resolution last week calling for the creation of two additional administrative student advocate positions to advocate for students’ rights in the university’s sexual violence judicial process.

LGBT Center Representative John Kelly and TCU Vice President Meredith Goldberg submitted the resolution, which advocates a system modeled after policies at the University of Washington and Middlesex County in Massachusetts.

The two new administrative positions, if created, would include a victim witness advocate and an accused witness advocate, Kelly, a sophomore, said. The witness advocates would be with the students involved in a sexual crime throughout the entire judicial process, serving as their voice to the administration.

The creation of the two new positions would aim to provide students with administrative representation from someone beyond the unbiased investigator, Kelly said.

“Right now, the way the process operates, everyone involved is required to be unbiased, and it makes students feel very alienated during the process,” he said.

Kelly’s opinions on the weaknesses of Tufts’ current sexual response policy stem from his own experience with the sexual assault judicial process last fall.

“Going through the process, it’s very easy to tell what needs to be changed,” Kelly said. “It was an alienating process and a traumatizing process and both of those much more so than they need to be.”

Though the process has flaws, Women’s Center director Steph Gauchel said she believes it has been greatly improved over the span of the last five years.

The resolution also calls for the formation of a panel of faculty, staff, and students to aid the hiring process of the two new positions, according to Kelly.

The panel would feature representatives from each member of the Group of Six, the Department of Health Education, Counseling and Mental Health Services, Health Service, the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO), the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, Students Voices, and faculty members.

Kelly encouraged students interested in voicing their opinion on the issue to contact him.

“I’m really trying to be as inclusive as possible to make sure that anyone possibly affected by this policy in the past and in the future gets the representation they deserve and they need,” he said. “I think there are voices that need to be heard on this issue to represent students who are most directly, personally, emotionally and physically affected by sexual violence on this campus.”

Kelly said he wants the new administrative members to be licensed social workers hired from outside the university, but he is not yet sure where in the university the positions would be housed. He plans on continuing conversations with the Tufts administration to determine the details.

Beyond improving the current policy, Kelly hopes the resolution expands the awareness of sexual violence on campus.

“I’m hoping that any publicity or notice that the resolution itself brings will bring about a discourse regarding sexual violence on this campus that is definitely lacking,” Kelly said.

Gauchel said she encourages any effort to advance sexual violence and its prevention on the Hill.

“I think we could certainly use more education in terms of prevention and understanding the real roots of sexual violence, thinking about what kind of culture and campus do we want to have and how that impacts the ways in which people are experiencing sexual violence,” she said.

Kelly hopes the passing of the resolution will result in an improved experience for future victims of sexual violence going through the judicial system.

“If this makes one student’s experiences through this horrible process any less difficult, then I think that it’s a successful policy,” he said.


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