Group asks universities to crack down on false rape claims across the nation
By Kris Collins
October 23, 2012
Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), a nonprofit victim-advocacy organization, is asking colleges to crack down on false accusations of sexual assault, citing a growing number of false claims.
In a letter to the president of the University of Montana, a campus that had a recent sexual assault case involving an athlete, SAVE addressed the problem of false claims.
According to the letter, ”during the past year, false-rape cases have been reported at the University of North Dakota, Yale University, University of Connecticut, University of North Florida, Xavier University and elsewhere.”
SAVE tries to broaden its argument by saying all false claims, not just claims of sexual crimes, are occurring, citing an article from the University of Northern Florida’s Spinnaker.
According to the article, police are now giving students citations for false claims to combat the increasing occurrence.
Though SAVE is adamant about addressing the issue, Jay Huff, Missouri State’s Safety and Transportation assistant director, said false claims aren’t a new problem.
“I spent 25 years in the Springfield Police Department,” Huff said. “That was something you occasionally dealt with.”
According to Kim Sahr, coordinator of Student
duct ,the growing number of false claims that SAVE is speaking out against aren’t seen on the Missouri State campus.
“I haven’t seen any real information, any real statistics to say, ‘here are all these people who have falsely accused,’” Sahr said. “If you make a false police report or you’re found to be making false accusations, you could have charges brought against you for that.”
Furthermore, Sahr said investigations, which she would be a part of, follow incident reports.
“I don’t think, personally, that we have a problem with false accusations,” Sahr said.
The change in the Missouri State policy wasn’t made specifically to combat the issue of false claims, but in an attempt to make the policy as close to the guidelines set by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).
Within the Dear Colleague Letter released in April 2011 from the Department of Education, guidelines were laid out.
“That prompted us to take a look at all of our stuff and match it up,” Sahr said. “We worked with Student Affairs staff, legal counsel and, of course, the Board of Governors to make sure everything was in line.”
The sexual harassment policy, section 4.19 in The Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities from the Office of Student Conduct, hasn’t changed significantly. Sahr noted that improvements are constantly being made where they can be, but the OCR is concerned about colleges and universities acting on incidents and preventing further ones from occurring.
In the past, if a victim of a sexual assault didn’t want the incident to be investigated, the university would typically respect the victim’s decision.
Now, the university may not give students an option and will pursue an aggressive investigation, depending on the circumstance, according to a past interview with Don Clark, director of safety and transportation.
“You have a duty as a school to at least investigate as far as you can until you hit a roadblock,” Sahr said of the OCR’s guidelines in layman’s terms. “Your next obligation is to stop the harassment and then remedy its effects.”
One particular guideline that has brought about criticism of the OCR code is Title IX, which states educational institutions are obligated to maintain safe environments, free of sexual harassment.
The controversy stems from issues in privacy. To maintain a safe environment, the code says cases of sexual assault need to be addressed and institutions don’t need a student’s permission to press charges, or not.
“That’s the piece that people have latched on to — potentially trampling victims’ rights,” Sahr said. “That’s something we’re very mindful of when we work with people who report sexual assault. We know it’s awful and traumatic, and we don’t want to re-victimize somebody.”
Sahr said there is a balance to be made between privacy and safety. To combat the issue, Sahr said she is very upfront with victims, informing them of the policy following incidents — the investigation, ceasing the harassment and recovery — in which victims do not have to participate.
“We put ourselves at risk. We put our students at risk if we don’t act when we have enough information to act on somebody,” Sahr said. “What if they do it again to another person?”
The letter from the Department of Education detailing guidelines can be found at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201109.html
Missouri State’s Code of Students Right and Responsibilities can be found in detail at http://www.missouristate.edu/StudentConduct/12331.htm