Blog – University Sexual Assaults:
The White House Council announced in January of 2014 their intention to target sexual assault against women and girls, particularly college women, in a report entitled ‘A Renewed Call to Action’. This report referenced a number of recent studies into this seemingly increasing epidemic, including the statistic that one in five women will experience sexual assault or rape while in college. It is also important to note that most victims of sexual assault know their attacker, and that sexual assaults often happen at parties.
Several risk factors have been identified, both pertaining to sexual victimisation, and perpetration. These will be discussed in more detail below.
– Risk factors for female victims of sexual assault:
- Prior victimisation – women who have experienced either an attempted or completed sexual assault prior to entering college are twice as likely to experience the same upon entering college. This is less so for women who experienced childhood sexual abuse, as opposed to sexual abuse during adolescence. One possible explanation for this link between sexual abuse as an adolescent/young adult and subsequent sexual abuse in college could be that such an experience often leads to abuse of drugs or alcohol, which in itself is a considerable risk factor for victimisation (see below).
- Substance use – this is the most significant risk factor for sexual victimisation. Studies have shown that women who drink often enough to become intoxicated are more likely to experience sexual assault than those who do not. Heavy periodic drinking patterns in high school, as well as commencing drinking at an earlier age, are both positively associated with an increased risk of rape during college. The vast majority of sexual assault victims are incapacitated at the time of the assault, either as a result of voluntarily intoxication, or being administered substances without their consent or knowledge.
- Age and year of study – women in their earlier years of college (freshmen and sophomores) are at greater risk of being sexually abused than older college students.
- Race/ethnicity – while this particular risk factor has not been well studied, studies have shown that white undergraduate women are more likely to report having been sexually assaulted than women of other races. One explanation for this is that a pattern of heavy drinking is more commonly associated with white college students.
- Residential status – is it unsurprising that women who reside either in sorority houses or dormitories on-campus are at a greater risk of experiencing sexual assault that those students who do not live on campus.
- Sorority membership – given that sorority membership is often associated with excessive drinking and/or coercion into drug taking, such women are therefore more likely to be subjected to sexual assault. Another risk factor for women in sororities is their frequent socialisation with fraternity men, who have been recognized as being more likely to commit a sexual assault than men who are not fraternity members.
- Dating violence history – this is another risk factor which has not been well researched. It has, however, been suggested that women who have experienced violence at the hands of a previous dating partner are more likely to be sexually assaulted in that year.
- Consensual sexual experiences – it has been suggested that women with a high number of previous sexual partners, and/or who commenced sexual activity at a younger age are more likely to be sexually assaulted.
- Attitudinal characteristics – while very few solid findings have been made with regards to this risk factor, it has been suggested that women who enter college with a more conservative attitude towards their sexuality are less likely to be victims of sexual abuse than those women with less conservative attitudes.
– Risk factors for male perpetrators of sexual assault:
- Substance use – just as for female victims, drug or alcohol use is positively associated with the perpetration of sexual assaults. Substance use not only leads to lowered inhibitions, but can also result in males misreading signals as consenting in situations where they do not exist.
- Fraternity membership – for the same reason that female association with fraternity men is a risk factor for sexual victimisation, fraternity membership is a risk factor for perpetration of sexual assault.
- Participation in aggressive sports – recent studies have found that men who played such sports as football, basketball, wrestling and soccer while in high school are more likely to utilise some form of sexual coercion (whether physical or psychological) than men who did not participate in such sports.
- Attitudinal characteristics – those who perpetrate sexual assaults are more likely than other men to share common characteristics, such as an attitude of sexism, an approval of violence towards women, a feeling of hostility towards women, as well as tolerance of common rape myths.
- It is also worth noting that male perpetrators are more likely to have been childhood victims of sexual abuse or violence, to have commenced sexual activity at an earlier age, and to more frequently take part in sexual dating experiences.
The college environment tends to exacerbate these risk factors, both for victimisation and perpetration. As the Campus Sexual Assault (‘CSA’) Study (referenced below) states, “college offers an environment notorious for encouraging excessive drinking and experimenting with drugs”, both of which increase the risk of sexual assault.
It is not uncommon for sexual assaults in a college setting to lead to criminal prosecution, generally subject to reporting of an incident (to be discussed in more detail below). Depending on the severity of the incident, charges can range from sexual abuse in the third degree and forcible touching (both misdemeanors) to aggravated sexual abuse and rape (both felonies). In New York State, sexual offenses are contained in § 130 of the New York Penal Law (‘NYPL’).
Role of the School:
The college has an important role to play in the aftermath of an alleged sexual assault, both from the perspective of aiding reporting, taking action against the alleged perpetrator, and in protecting itself from legal action. Each of these will be discussed in some detail below:
– Preventing sexual assaults from occurring – the CSA set out male and female programs which schools could instigate:
- Programs for women – focus on preventing women from being either victimised or re-victimised. In order to achieve this, the report suggested that the program should provide college women with an understanding of the legal definitions of the various sexual offenses, and combine this better understanding of what constitutes an offense with drug and alcohol counseling. Programs should also aim to increase female assertiveness, as well as ensure that all college women are aware of how to report any assaults to either the school or law enforcement authorities, and the importance of doing so.
- Programs for men – focus on informing men not only of the legal definitions for the various sexual offenses, but also the penalties for committing those offenses. The report also suggests that there should be a strong emphasis on ensuring that college men understand that they are responsible for determining the presence of consent, and also whether a woman is actually capable of providing informed consent. This includes the knowledge that an intoxicated person cannot provide consent.
– Facilitating reporting – reporting of sexual assaults which occur on college campuses are particularly low. There are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that victims feel they have no proof that the incident occurred, that the incident was not serious enough, or they fear a hostile reception on the part of authorities. This is not to mention the fact that victims are often discouraged from reporting by the involvement of drugs or alcohol in the hours surrounding the alleged assault, which is of particular pertinence when the victim is underage. It is important that schools are able to adequately address these barriers to reporting by implementing policies which tend to encourage reporting, and overcome some of these discouraging issues. College administrators have referred the following factors as being encouraging of reporting:
- The adequate provision of victim service.
- Written protocols for law enforcement responders to follow.
- Campus wide exposure about previous incidents.
- Provisions in place allowing for confidential and/or anonymous reporting. It should be noted that the CSA referenced the following statistic: 84% of institutions allow for confidential reporting, while only 46% of institutions allow for anonymous reporting.
– Response of the college – sexual assaults on campus put pressure on the college in question not only to attempt to create an environment which discourages such acts from occurring, but also to deal appropriately with the alleged perpetrator. It is not uncommon for schools to take disciplinary action against a perpetrator (whether in lieu of, or alongside of a criminal prosecution), and also to be on the receiving end of a victim lawsuit alleging negligence on the part of the college. In the case of Kelly v. Yale University WL 1563424 (USDC Connecticut, 2003), following the sexual assault of the plaintiff by fellow student Nolan, Kelly filed a formal written complaint with the school requesting remedial action against Nolan. Nolan was required to take a leave of absence from the school until Kelly’s expected graduation. In addition to other accommodations made for Kelly as a result of the assault (including removing Nolan from Kelly’s dormitory), the school held multiple open forums on campus to address the concern of other students resulting from incident. In the aforementioned proceeding, despite the number of steps taken by the school to address the incident, Kelly brought an action against the school which included accusations of negligence, breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation (many of which were dismissed in summary judgment). In the case of Andersen v. Cornell University 225 A.D.2d 946 (3’d Dept, 1996), the plaintiff brought an action for assault, battery and negligence against Cornell University as a result of a rape which allegedly occurred at a house leased to a fraternity by the aforementioned university. It is therefore not only in the best interests of the students, but also of the college, to have policies in place designed to prevent sexual assaults from occurring on their campuses.
Assistance for Alleged Victims and Perpetrators:
Individuals who have been involved in a sexual assault, either as an alleged victim or an alleged perpetrator, will oftentimes require assistance from an experienced attorney.
An experienced attorney can be of significant assistance to a college victim of sexual assault. Galluzzo & Arnone has had experience in attempting to initiate criminal proceedings against an alleged perpetrator, through discussions with the relevant District Attorney’s Office. If a criminal prosecution is unsuccessful, or in the event that the District Attorney chooses not to pursue charges against the perpetrator, then Galluzzo & Arnone is prepared to either pursue a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator under the common law, or a lawsuit against the college (as above) for negligence or other common law causes of actions. Victims can be awarded significant monetary damages following a successful lawsuit against either aforementioned party. The legal burden is lower in civil cases, and as such it is ‘easier’ to prove a plaintiff’s case in civil court than it is to successfully prosecute a perpetrator.
On the other hand, if you have been charged with an offense resulting from an alleged sexual assault, you could be facing severe and lengthy terms of imprisonment, and as such will need an experienced and well-respected attorney to handle your case. Galluzzo & Arnone has had success in defending individuals charged with sexual offenses on college campuses, including but not limited to serious charges such as rape in the first degree (NYPL § 130.35). In the case of People v. Lynch, partner Matthew Galluzzo secured a full acquittal for his client after going to trial, in which the complainant testified that the defendant and his roommate raped her in the defendant’s dorm room.
As stated above, a term of imprisonment is not the only consequence of being found guilty of a sexual offence. Sex Offender Registration Act § 168-a enumerates all of the offenses, a conviction for which will result in registration as a sex offenders. Level 2 and 3 sex offenders will be required to be registered as such for life, and their information will be public on the internet. This would clearly have dire consequences for a college student.
Sexual assaults in college settings can be extremely damaging both for the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator. Students should take note of the risk factors discussed above, and act to minimise their own exposure, either to victimisation or perpetration. We strongly suggest that you contact the experienced sexual assault attorneys at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP.