With the recent creation of a White House task force to combat sexual assault on college campuses, it is clear that necessary national scrutiny has returned to the issue of sexual misconduct. Both the Hilltop and the District have recently made long-overdue updates to their policies that will allow the issues of rape and sexual assault to receive the attention that they need.
Georgetown University revealed changes made to the section of its Code of Student Conduct that addresses sexual assault, which will take effect this fall. Changes include assigning trained investigators to reported cases, hiring additional psychiatric-trauma specialists, installing closed-circuit technology at hearings and training all incoming students and administrators in bystander-intervention education.
These changes bring Georgetown’s inquiry into cases involving sexual misconduct to today’s standard. Although there is certainly room for improvement, Georgetown’s new policies reflect that the university is taking allegations of sexual assault more seriously than before.
For example, instead of depending on the Office of Student Conduct — which is more effective in investigating drug, alcohol and noise violations — to investigate assault charges, we can now utilize the expertise and experience of specialized investigators, who are better equipped to handle these often nuanced, sensitive issues.
Similarly, the District penal code’s revised definition of rape, which until recently had last been updated in 1927, provides a technical definition to replace the archaic “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” The use of this definition in the nation’s capital, which is proud to consider itself one of the most progressive cities in a progressive nation, was embarrassing. Although any progress on the issue, however overdue, is certainly welcome, it is disheartening and concerning that the definition has only now been changed.
Both Georgetown’s willingness to accept advice from the White House and Office for Civil Rights and the District’s willingness to rephrase an archaic definition show that our university and city administrators recognize the systemic problems in how sexual assault and rape are addressed in today’s culture. Changing the system of investigation and punishment is a step in the right direction, but further steps are certainly needed to effect change in the culture surrounding this issue.
Recent changes have reasonably and correctly allocated investigatory and counseling resources for victims of rape and sexual assault to where they are most needed. Georgetown and Washington would do well to continue moving in this same direction.