Brandeis University Punishes Sexual Assault With Sensitivity Training

06/11/2014 04:44 pm ET | Updated Jun 12, 2014
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Following a six-month investigation, officials at Brandeis University found a male student guilty of sexual assault, only to punish him with a warning and sensitivity training, according to university documents provided to The Huffington Post.

"Honestly, I thought it was a joke," said Joseph Babeu, a rising Brandeis senior and the reported victim in the case. "Did they send me the wrong letter? I read the charges and almost nothing was happening -- just a slap on the wrist."

In January, Babeu reported a fellow Brandeis student for sexual assault. The list of charges against the accused student included sexual assault, taking advantage of one's incapacitation, sexual harassment, physical harm and invasion of personal privacy, according to a university document shared with The Huffington Post. The accused was found responsible for all charges, but only after a lengthy process that Babeu claims often excluded him from knowing details about his case.

Days after Babeu first reported the student, the accused man filed a report of his own against Babeu in retaliation, a charge that was eventually dropped, and for charges of "false claims" and invasion of privacy, for which university officials found Babeu not responsible.

According to a letter from Babeu's faculty adviser to the university Title IX officer, Dean of Students Jamele Adams initially restricted Babeu from entering the school's dining halls due to the charges against him, and asked Babeu to step down from a campus leadership position. After he protested, the university relented on these restrictions, Babeu said.

When Babeu asked the university what interim restrictions were placed on his attacker, he said Adams would not tell him. Associate Dean of Student Life Maggie Balch told Babeu he should expect to see his attacker around campus, and should report his attacker if he violated the Dean's restrictions, which again, the office declined to disclose, according to Babeu.

Brandeis spokeswoman Ellen de Graffenreid would not comment on specific cases, but said reported victims are informed if "the accused is barred from particular areas or activities." She told HuffPost that "restrictions that might be imposed by the university unrelated to the safety of the accuser would not be shared."

Without knowing whether there were any intermediary measures in place, Babeu obtained a no-contact order against the accused assailant. In February, the accused student violated the no-contact order, but Babeu said he was simply given a warning as a result.

"It gives him the idea he can violate these things and not get punished for it," Babeu said.

Just before final exams, the university found the accused responsible for all charges against him. Dean of Academic Services Lisa Boes assembled a panel of faculty and staff to decide the student's punishment. Fifteen days later, on May 27, the accused was given a warning and sensitivity training as a sanction.

Reporting the assault, and the subsequent process, was "probably the worst experience of my entire life and one of the hardest things I've ever done," Babeu said. "I have a lot of anger and I'm not normally an angry person."

De Graffenreid declined to comment on the case except to say there were "factual errors in the information" provided by Babeu to HuffPost. She would not elaborate on which parts of Babeu's account were inaccurate or which parts differed from the university's version of events, instead repeatedly citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

"All of the timing in terms of the projected length of an investigation is listed as our goal, and is often optimistic in very complex cases," de Graffenreid said in reference to how long a student misconduct investigation may take. "We share our students' concerns about the length of these investigations, but must be observant of the rights of all parties and thorough in our investigative efforts. The parties involved are updated at regular intervals during the process."

Brandeis has faced a round of criticism for its handling of sexual violence.

The activist group UltraViolet targeted Brandeis, along with a handful of other universities, in a social media campaign this April, branding it a college with a "rape problem."

An online petition during the recent spring semester called on Brandeis to establish a rape crisis center, maintain a permanent on-call crisis response counselor and implement bystander intervention training at orientation, among other prevention efforts. More than 2,600 people signed the petition.

The petition was inspired by a Tumblr called SpeakOut! Brandeis, which chronicled the experiences of survivors and called for more resources and education to prevent sexual violence on campus.

"Brandeis strives to be a leader in combating sexual violence and will use every means at our disposal and consistent with our values to do so," de Graffenreid said. "At the same time, we join colleagues across the country struggling to balance our commitment to support survivors with valuing fairness, integrity and proportionality in our conduct systems."

"Research indicates that punitive measures are unlikely to be a deterrent to other offenders," de Graffenreid added, "and that particularly harsh mandatory sanctions can have the impact of discouraging survivors from coming forward."

According to information from Brandeis, the university found five students responsible for sexual misconduct in calendar year 2013. Two were dismissed from Brandeis, two were suspended and one was placed on probation and required to complete education on sexual assault prevention, the university said.

Frustrated with the outcome of his own case, Babeu posted about it on Facebook and began receiving a flood of messages from other survivors at Brandeis. It was frightening, he said, how pervasive the issue appeared to be.

Babeu, co-president of the campus Queer Policy Alliance and a recent recipient of the Post-Secondary Russian Scholar Laureate Prize by the American Council of Teachers of Russian, said that sexual assault is a "scary" topic, but he felt he needed to come forward.

"I just needed to do something about it," Babeu said. "I needed to let people know this is happening."

Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.

CONVERSATIONS