SPJ Applauds Department of Education Ruling in re Campus Rape Victims Identifying Attackers to the Media
Charles N. Davis, Freedom of Information Committee co-chair, (573) 882-5736 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Carolyn S. Carlson, Campus Crime FOI Subcommittee vice chair, (404) 502-1638 or email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS— A ruling by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in a Georgetown University case means that campus rape victims are free to identify their assailants to the media without fear of violating school rules themselves, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Campus Crime Freedom of Information Subcommittee said today.
Georgetown had been requiring sexual assault victims to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they could learn the outcome of campus court hearings against their attackers. ED official M. Geneva Coombs said, “We have determined that Georgetown’s approach is inconsistent with the requirement” of the federal Jeanne Clery Act.
Coombs’ statement was included in a letter sent earlier this month to Kate Dieringer, a student who complained about the practice last year after going public about her own sexual assault case in a column in the campus newspaper. Coombs conducted a review as a result of the complaint.
The ruling means schools cannot prohibit victims from re-disclosing the information they learn from the hearings, so victims can decide for themselves if they want to publicize the punishment meted out to their assailants by their schools, said Charles Davis, chairman of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee.
“She can post a flyer. She can call a news conference and tell the media who assaulted her and how he was punished,” Davis said. “What she doesn’t have to do is sit silently in class next to her rapist when he got off with a warning or risk being punished herself if she says anything to a friend who’s thinking about dating the guy.”
Whether the campus media identifies the rape victim in stories about the identity and punishment of her assailant, however, would depend whether the victim is willing to be identified and on the media outlet’s policies about identifying sexual assault victims and using unidentified sources, Davis added.
Georgetown has been notified by ED that it is expected “to conform its rules to comply with the” Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, which requires that victims receive information about disciplinary proceedings without any conditions or limitations. Todd A. Olson, Georgetown’s vice president for student affairs, has said the school will change its policy to reflect the Department of Education’s order.
Under the Victims’ Bill of Rights, added to the Clery Act in 1992, campus sexual assault victims must unconditionally be told the outcomes of hearings in their cases. Institutions that violate the law face fines of up to $27,500 per violation or loss of eligibility to participate in federal student aid programs.