Since we know that college rapists commit an average of six rapes during their time at school, these colleges – and this policy – are making it easier for sexual offenders to move on without consequence. And onto new victims.
Earlier this year, a woman sued the University of Oregon after she alleged she was sexually assaulted by three basketball players – one of whom transferred to the school after being suspended for sexual misconduct at Providence College.
In 2011, a student found responsible for rape at Northeastern University was able to to transfer to the University of Maryland with a transcript that simply noted he was involved in a “pending disciplinary action”.
And last year, Virginia Wesleyan College even helped a student found guilty of sexual assault to transfer to a new school by letting him voluntarily withdraw instead of following through with a planned expulsion.
Laura Bennett, President of the Association for Student Conduct Administration, tells me that the law – the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act – does have an exception that allows colleges to get disciplinary records without a student’s permission, but only if that’s been the practice in the past at the institution.
“The challenge that comes up,” Bennett says, “is that schools don’t know to ask the question.”
And while transfer applications also frequently ask students to reveal if they’ve been convicted of a crime, suspended or expelled, the fact that so few college rapists are punished beyond writing a research paper or letter of apology means it’s unlikely a rape accusation would ever be revealed.
Despite the threat of letting rapists simply college-hop to avoid detection and punishment, educational and even anti-rape activists are nervous about the idea of mandating disclosure of disciplinary infractions.
One campus anti-violence expert I spoke to – who wished to remain anonymous – worried that revealing students’ disciplinary records would lead to increased procedural hurdles in the campus adjudication process. Given the backlash we’re already seeing to simple anti-rape efforts like yes means yes standards, her fear is well-founded.
Bennett says her organization believes a school should only flag a student’s transcript if they have been suspended or expelled:
“A transcript is supposed to be about the academic relationship and history and it starts to cross a line if you just say a person has been accused.” She noted that one way schools have handled this is by writing that a student has a “pending conduct case.”
But here’s the thing: We shouldn’t have to write in code what colleges need to know about incoming students. And while I’m mindful of students’ privacy, I’m more concerned about students’ safety. Schools already handle sexual assault cases poorly and rapists continue to attack with impunity – do we really want to make it that much easier for them? Packing up your bags and starting over elsewhere shouldn’t be an option for rapists – especially when “starting over” often just means new victims in a new place.