Student Senate endorses amended rape policy
Published: Friday, December 6, 2013
Updated: Friday, December 6, 2013 02:12
On Dec. 1, Student Senate passed a resolution to change UNH’s rape policy. Student Body Vice President Bryan Merrill, Community Development Council Chair Stephanie Kuhn and Judicial Affairs Council Chair Brett Branscombe introduced the resolution.
“The majority of students here on campus are female and it’s important that this campus is a safe haven,” Merrill said.
According to UNH’s Student Rights, Rules and Responsibilities, UNH’s current rape policy states, “The minimum sanction for those found responsible for sexual misconduct that includes sexual penetration [rape] as defined by RSA 632-A:1,V is suspension for one year or until the survivor graduates or otherwise leaves the University for an indefinite period of time, whichever is longer.”
Merrill said that he doesn’t understand why UNH, being a state university, isn’t held to the same standard as the state law. The New Hampshire state law for convicted rapists is a minimum of zero to 10 years in prison and a maximum of zero to 20. At UNH it is a minimum of a one-year suspension and, depending on how many years of school the survivor has left, a maximum of four years.
In the resolution passed by Senate, it is stated that having such a short suspension period can create many problems for the campus. The biggest problem in Merrill’s eyes is that the survivor may feel unsafe. This can also lead the survivor’s friends and family on campus to feel unsafe as well.
Junior Christine Luciano, a SHARPP volunteer, said that most survivors report feeling upset or unsafe over seeing their rapist on campus. Luciano said that survivors say they feel especially uncomfortable when seeing their rapist in their dorm building.
“You need to feel safe in your home,” Luciano said.
Another major problem that can arise from letting a rapist back onto campus is that some rapists are repeat offenders. As stated in the resolution, this can create a “legal liability stemming from [the] perpetrator(s) victimizing another individual or individuals on campus upon their return.” This then gives UNH a bad image and reputation.
Merrill said that UNH already has a relatively good reputation in terms of sexual assault prevention since it has SHARPP, one of the only programs of its kind in the country, but that it should be doing a lot better.
“We’re ahead of the pack but the entire race is going too slow,” Merrill said.
The resolution asks that UNH change the rape policy so that the sanction for the crime is university dismissal. It then states that if administration is not willing to make that change, that it makes the new policy reflect the state law, in which the rapist must withdraw from the university for at least 10 years.
Merrill also wants the survivor to have a bigger voice when it comes to the sanctioning of their perpetrator. Merrill believes that the survivor should play a part in deciding how many years the rapist must stay off campus, whether it is until he or she graduates or for the full ten years. This is to ensure that the survivor, as well as any of the survivor’s friends or family who may be on campus, feel as safe as possible.
Merrill does have reservations about this plan, though. Merrill and Luciano both said that most people who are raped are attacked by a person that they know. Merrill fears that survivors will feel guilty or uncomfortable when deciding the fate of their perpetrator.
Luciano described this as an issue that faces most survivors. She said that they often feel guilty over getting their attacker in trouble and that, because of this, the survivor is usually hesitant to admit that their attacker scares them.
Merrill hopes that the new policy will support survivors, though, and let them know that UNH is there to help.
Another goal of the new policy is to make people more aware of the major problems that rape and sexual violence are.
“It’ll make it clear that we [UNH] don’t tolerate rape,” Merrill said.
Merrill said that work will begin over January term to change the rape policy but that new policies can’t go into effect part way through an academic year. He hopes that the new policy will be in place at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year.
Although Luciano said that she believes rapists should not be allowed back to UNH after any period of time, she said that there is one thing about the policy that is more important than anything else.
“As long as the survivor can spend the rest of their years here feeling safe, that’s what matters,” Luciano said.