Many students are aware of the stigmas associated with sexual assault, but few know what to do if accused. On Tuesday night, the Binghamton University ombudsman and eight panelists explained the rights and resources for those filing or facing sexual assault charges.
At the Dickinson Community fireplace, Ombudsman Bathabile Mthombeni led the conversation between a panel of representatives from the Title IX Coordinators, the University Police Department (UPD), the Dean of Students office, the University Counseling Center (UCC), Residential Life, Student Conduct, Off-Campus Services and Chief Diversity Officer. The speakers explained the process that ensues after complaint is received by their office.
According to the Student Code of Conduct, sexual assault is any physical sexual act committed against another person without affirmative consent, here defined as a voluntary agreement between the parties which can be withdrawn at any time. Both consent and withdrawal need not be verbal, but must be clear.
Mthombeni said the event’s purpose was to help members of the University understand what due process looks like on campus as well as explaining what their rights and responsibilities are, before a crisis happens.
Reports usually begin at Student Conduct, which finds out who is involved and hears the story from both perspectives. Students are able to sign an administrative agreement and then a sexual assault board hearing process will begin.
UPD talks to witnesses, contacts any known suspects and determines whether a suspect should be in custody, interrogated and read their Miranda rights. In cases that are deemed serious by the Student Code of Conduct handbook or if a student is deemed dangerous, UPD contacts the District Attorney’s office which guides them on how to proceed.
The Dean of Students office works to help students get what they need, whether that be contacting an attorney or needing time off. If suspended or expelled, students can find housing through Off-Campus Services. The Title IX office informs students of their options and available resources on and off-campus, and the UCC helps students work through their feelings on the situation.
“What I would really like is for us to live in a situation where rape and sexual assault never happen and so it is really important to have conversations that are about consent, healthy sexual relationships and so forth,” Mthombeni said. “The reality is that we’re not there yet and so understanding that when it does happen, that it’s an extraordinarily traumatic situation. We can help to ameliorate that trauma at least a little bit by allowing people to be informed and empowered.”
Speaking to the UCC and ombudsman at any time is confidential, but students should talk to their attorney and parents before approaching any other office because these offices must report what is told to them regardless of if the student wants to file a report, according to Assistant Dean for Off-Campus Services Milton Chester.
“If I had a child who was accused, I would say stop talking until you get an attorney and your parents figure out how you want to proceed,” Chester said.
Benjamin Allen, a senior majoring in history, said that the talk had the answers he was looking for regarding the definitions of assault and consent.
“It doesn’t lend to the macho image which is that you go out, you get girls and you don’t worry about the consequences,” he said. “But as a guy who is always overly concerned about accidentally hurting my girlfriend or doing something that would make her feel uncomfortable, I just really wanted to have this kind of information.”
Victims or the accused should be wary of impulsive statements that may eventually be used against them, said Paul Stroud, director of student conduct.
“If we’re on anyone’s side,” Stroud said, “we’re on the side of truth.”