[STAFF EDITORIAL] SPA needs to create a clearer, more detailed sexual assault policy

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[STAFF EDITORIAL] SPA needs to create a clearer, more detailed sexual assault policy

Editorial Cartoon: Rebecca Ebert

Editorial Cartoon: Rebecca Ebert

Editorial Cartoon: Rebecca Ebert

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Society’s current climate surrounding sexual violence is fraught and divided. With ongoing calls for change — a reduction in the frequency of assaults, a process that doesn’t blame the victim, and a desire for harsher consequences after an assault — it’s time for St. Paul Academy and Summit School to set a clearer, more transparent policy around sexual assault.

High school is an especially volatile period that is often conducive to sexual assault: the percentage of child-on-child sexual abuse is highest between ages 15 and 17, or during most adolescents’ sophomore and senior years of high school. SPA’s Upper School handbook language, however, is not sufficient in either preventing sexual violence or supporting victims. Currently, any school based action is tucked underneath the general harassment policy and is defined by MSHSL standards of sexual harassment, not in reflection of SPA’s school culture. The handbook does not distinguish between sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. The policy only outlines a general “investigation” that follows a report and will result in an appropriate “response” without any information on who will conduct an investigation or what consequences might be appropriate.

The last revision of the sexual harassment policy was the addition of a photo and video policy, which was amended in response to the rise in popularity of social media. This, too, focuses on harassment and not assault, but does introduce the word “consent” to the handbook.

A sexual violence policy must be granted its own section in the handbook. Under this section, the policy must clearly distinguish between sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, defining each and clarifying their consequences or legal ramifications.”

In an interview US Principal Max Delgado said that the policies in the handbook are guideposts for action, while the actual practices are how the policies are acted upon. These practices are constantly updated.

Even if administration constantly revises the practices surrounding sexual harassment, the policies also need to be revised to reflect the community’s values. A sexual violence policy must be granted its own section in the handbook. Under this section, the policy must clearly distinguish between sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, defining each and clarifying their consequences or legal ramifications.

Before any of these changes, however, the SPA administration must immediately publish a definition of consent in the US Handbook so all students understand the expectation as it relates to not only in school behavior but out of school behavior that often finds its way back to school in conversations in the hallways and relationships in the classroom. In order to ensure that the new policy reflects the community at SPA, the administration should work with affinity and gender-related student groups when writing this policy. Together, this group can explore policies from different colleges that provide a clear and comprehensive roadmap for each stage of a sexual violence allegation. While many college policies are still relatively new, most address a number of issues that our school handbook has not yet addressed, such as a clear process of reporting and investigation for all parties involved.

To ensure that students understand affirmative consent beginning at a young age, this new policy must span kindergarten through twelfth grade, laying an expectation of consent and building a culture set to dismantle rape culture from the moment students enter our community.

Last fall’s assembly with the Aurora Center that focused on consent, ongoing professional development for faculty on assault and reporting, and Delgado’s own investment in this issue by attending  a conference on dismantling rape culture all shows how the SPA administration is working on incorporating conversations about consent throughout the community. These steps are vital in creating a positive, respectful, and consensual campus environment, and The Rubicon fully acknowledges and lauds these important actions. However, even though the administration is working to improve the culture of consent on campus, an official policy on sexual violence must be prioritized. Even if the current practice is thoughtful and focuses on  victims, and, for the sake of privacy, is relatively opaque, the official policy must be set in clear language that students understand in terms of expectations, reporting, and consequences.

This editorial was originally published in the October 2018 Issue of The Rubicon.

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