Campus Police criticized for handling of sexual assault on campus

Photo by Tsemone Ogbemi ‘21 P hoto Editor  || Campus Police faces criticism from Students Against Sexual Assault for its handling of a sexual assault case on campus. 

Photo by Tsemone Ogbemi ‘21 Photo Editor ||Campus Police faces criticism from Students Against Sexual Assault for its handling of a sexual assault case on campus. 

Kira Barrett ‘18
Assistant News Editor

An unidentified Smith student was sexually assaulted in the late afternoon on Wednesday, Oct. 25 in the Dickinson parking lot outside of Hubbard House. 

Approximately five minutes after the incident, the student called Campus Police and waited over an hour for them to arrive. 

According to a statement released by Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA), when Campus Police did arrive, they told the student that the case was “unfounded” as they could not identify the assailants and because “sexual assault doesn’t really happen on Smith’s campus.”

When Campus Police officers finished questioning the student, they reported that there were “suspicious person(s)” sighted on campus. They did not mention any sexual assault, nor was the incident logged in the public police records. 

More than two weeks later, Campus Police recorded that there had been an “accosting/annoying person of the opposite sex” on campus on the night in question. 

SASA claims that the student has since experienced a hostile reaction from a professor who would not grant extensions on assignments or excused absences from class, despite an email from the Class Dean requesting that the professor do so. 

Also according to SASA, other administrative figures who attempted to help the student “showed a general lack of knowledge about campus policy, and many gave the student contradictory information.” 

Campus Police released a statement in response to the criticism of their handling of the incident. “Smith College Campus Police takes matters of personal safety very seriously and follows specific, best-practice protocols appropriate to the incident reported,” the statement reads. “The incident in question was investigated thoroughly.”

Associate Vice President for College Relations Sam Masinter said that College Relations is not able to release information regarding the incident in order to protect the student’s privacy. 

However, Masinter did reiterate Campus Police’s statement. “Smith College Campus Police takes every report seriously and follows specific, detailed best-practice protocols for incident types,” Masinter said. “The incident in question was investigated in a timely and thorough manner by Campus Police. Campus Police and the Dean of Students regularly review incident responses in service of continuous improvement, as it did in this case.” 

SASA is requesting that the administration provide Campus Police with a written protocol detailing how to respond to a student reporting a sexual assault. 

The organization writes that the protocol should require Campus Police officers to respond immediately, to offer the student medical attention and the option to speak with a female Campus Police officer. 

Zainab Aqdas ’18, a computer science major, agrees that there should be such a protocol in place. “Campus Police should have explicit training about responding to sexual assault.” 

“It’s not like instances of sexual harassment have never occurred at Smith, and a protocol should have been in place much earlier,” Suroor Gandhi ’18 said. 

SASA is also requesting that Smith faculty and staff be well informed on the college’s sexual violence policy; that all Campus Police officers be trained in dealing with those who are traumatized; that Campus Police treat sexual violence cases as “severe” enough to report to the greater community; that additional outdoor lighting and emergency call boxes be installed throughout campus and that Smith have a group of “volunteer sexual violence advocates … to always accompany Campus Police whenever an assault is reported and remain with the survivor throughout any police questionings, medical exams, and possible meetings with prosecutors or court officials,” their statement reads. 

  As the handling of the October incident continues to stir controversy over Campus Police’s efficacy, SASA asks that students be respectful of the privacy of those involved. 

“They disclosed what they felt comfortable publicly disclosing, and it’s really important that the Smith community respects this, so that in the future, survivors will feel comfortable speaking out without fear of outing themselves,” the organization wrote.