Students join to address sexual assault

Megan Reed, Campus Carrier Editor-in-Chief

Several students at Berry have decided to address the issue of sexual assault on campus by seeking to establish an SGA committee on the topic.

The committee, which junior Olivia Paige proposed at last week’s SGA meeting, would meet to re-evaluate the college’s current sexual assault policy, which is in the Viking Code and is posted online.

The policy defines sexual assault as “any nonconsensual sexual act, including those resulting from threat, coercion, or force.”

                                                           Official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson
President Barack Obama signs the Campus Sexual Assault Presidential Memorandum
during a White House Council on Women and Girls meeting on Jan. 22, 2014. 

Sexual assault, the policy states, includes rape, date rape, acquaintance rape and gang rape, along with unwanted or forced sexual touching.

Sexual harassment is included in the same section of the Viking Code, and the policy states that it “consists of non-consensual sexual advances, requests for sexual compliance and other verbal or physical conduct or written communication of a sexual nature.”

Berry’s complete sexual assault policy, available on VikingWeb, advises victims to report the assault to campus police and seek help at the Sexual Assault Center of Northwest Georgia in Rome. Campus police refer all reported assaults to the appropriate college administrator and update a complainant on the status of their investigation at least weekly.

The policy states that according to the circumstances of each case, “sanctions may range from a formal reprimand to dismissal from the College.”

Paige said the focus of the committee will be to clarify the sanctions portion of the policy, which she said currently offers “no consistency.” Her goal is to establish suspension as the least severe sanction for someone found responsible for sexual assault. The committee would also seek “to call attention to the issue of sexual assault on our campus and act as advocates for victims,” she said.

Senior Noelle Mouton, who is interested in joining the committee, said making possible sanctions clearer helps prepare assault victims for the investigation and campus judicial process.

“It’s important to know what process you are getting yourself into if you report it and what the outcomes will be if the perpetrators are found guilty or not so that you know what to expect going into it rather than it just being a very unclear process and unclear ending outcome,” Mouton said.

The campus judicial board, which is composed of six students and four faculty or staff members, oversees conduct proceedings. In sexual assault cases, the complainant, or the accuser, and the respondent, the accused, remain separate during judicial board hearings.

“In any judicial board hearing, other than sexual assault and sexual misconduct, the complainant doesn’t get to hear the hearing, but the respondent does,” Julie Bumpus, associate dean of students, said. “In sexual assault, they both do and we separate them so they’re not in the same space.”

The respondent attends the entire hearing, except when the complainant arrives. Then, the respondent leaves the room and listens to an audio feed. When the complainant leaves and the respondent arrives, the complainant has the option of listening to an audio feed, Bumpus said.


Neither party is permitted to hire legal counsel for judicial board proceedings, Bumpus said. While Bumpus oversees the judicial board, she does not attend hearings.

The campus judicial board process and off-campus legal systems operate separately, although students do have the option to call 911 and notify off-campus authorities.

“Every police officer we have is a police officer, and they can do all the same things that any police officer can do,” Bumpus said. “You’re calling the gatehouse and they’re sending an officer there who will do the same thing that any police officer off-campus would do … they can take you–and they do– they can take you and book you in Floyd County Jail. They can and they have and they will.”

In the state of Georgia, rape is punishable by death, life imprisonment with or without parole or a minimum of 25 years imprisonment, followed by probation for life. Aggravated sexual battery is punishable by life imprisonment or a minimum of 25 years imprisonment, followed by probation for life.

Sophomore Daniel Boddie, who has expressed interest in joining the committee, said victims may be better served by off-campus law enforcement and the Floyd County District Attorney.

“This doesn’t need to be handled by Berry,” he said.

Leigh Patterson, the Floyd County District Attorney, is a Berry alumna and is familiar both with the college and with sexual assault cases, Boddie said.

“She’s a wonderful lady who is equipped to do this. She’s been to law school and she’s been given the training to handle these kinds of issues,” he said. “She’s a Berry alum, and she understands that these issues need to be addressed on campus, but she’s not being included in these conversations.”

While county sheriff’s offices and city police departments are required by law to make incident reports and arrest records public, the Berry College Police Department, as an entity at a private college, does not need to make its records public. To comply with the Jeanne Clery Act, the college does release an annual report about crime on campus with the number of reports for offenses such as alcohol and drug use and sexual assault.

Senior Abbey Smyth, another potential committee member, said receiving more information about assaults reported on campus would make students feel safer.

“I would feel more safe on campus if I knew where it happened. We don’t need to know the name of the perpetrator or the victim. That’s definitely confidential information,” Smyth said. “But should I be leery of walking in the Ford parking lot at night? Is that where it happened? Or did it happen in a dorm room? Was it more of a complicated situation, or is it more black and white, like someone from off campus came in and someone was attacked in the parking lot?”

Mouton said publicizing information about how sexual assault cases are dealt with would be helpful for both current and prospective students.

“Any current student or potential student should be able to see all those records because every school is going to have reports of sexual assault,” she said. “The student should be able to see that number but they should also be able to see exactly how those cases were dealt with. I think that would look a lot better on Berry to show that they know how to handle these cases when they’re brought to them.”

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which was introduced in the U.S. Senate in July, would establish an annual survey of students at every U.S. college and university about experiences of sexual violence. The results of this survey would then be published online so that parents and high school students could consider the issue when choosing a college. The Act would also require the Department of Education to publish information about its Title IX investigations and increase sexual assault training for college faculty and staff. Additionally, in order to encourage students to report sexual crimes, schools would be prohibited from issuing sanctions if a student admits to a violation such as underage drinking in the process of reporting an assault.

Debates at Berry about this issue are surrounded by a national conversation about sexual assault. In November, Rolling Stone published an investigative piece about rape culture at the University of Virginia which was later questioned. A student victim at Columbia University has been carrying her mattress around campus to call attention to the school’s mishandling of sexual assault cases. Last week, two Vanderbilt University students were found guilty for sexually assaulting a female student in 2013, while their attorneys claimed they were too intoxicated to be responsible for the assault.

“What other crime are you excused for your actions because you were too drunk?” Paige said. “Driving? No. Murder? No. Robbery? No.”

Sophomore Julie Adkins said California’s “yes means yes” bill, which states that silence is not consent, sends a positive message about preventing assault and could be used as a policy model.

“Silence isn’t saying that you’ll agree to it. The whole concept of that campaign is putting the burden of truth on the assaulter,” Adkins said. “That’s how it is in every other situation … it’s the murderer’s job to say ‘I didn’t.’”

Although the committee has not officially been established yet, it will be brought to administration and updates will be announced at SGA meetings.

Anyone interested in becoming involved in the effort can contact Olivia Paige.

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