Student Conduct Boards Are NOT Justice for Sexual Assault Survivors

By: Laurabeth Goldsmith

Rape is a serious crime and should be treated as such regardless of the location where the offense occurs. In a study of undergraduate women in the U.S., 19% indicated they were victims of sexual assault since entering college (CDC, 2012). According to a National Crime Victimization Survey, from 2006-2010, 54% of sexual assaults went unreported. Once unreported rapes are included only 3% of rapists ever spend a day in jail for their crimes (FBI Uniform Crime Reports, 2010). Additionally, according to David Lisak’s research two thirds of college rapists were repeat offenders and the average rapist committed 5.8 rapes each (Lisak, 2002).

Victims of sexual assault are more likely to “suffer academically and from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, to abuse alcohol and drugs, and to contemplate suicide (Dept Of Ed., 2011).” As Judith Herman explains victims often face an oscillating rhythm between intrusion, where the trauma feels continuous, and constriction, where the victim feels a paralyzed and numb from the trauma (Herman, 1992). Victims often feel ashamed and do not report the incidents, which in turn allows the rapists to remain at large and escape prosecution.

U.S. colleges and universities often utilize private police and have allowed sexual violence cases to be tried before Student Conduct Boards rather than by local authorities. While individuals are always allowed to use the criminal justice system they often see Student Conduct Boards as an easier student friendly process. Universities using Student Conduct Boards fosters the misperception of lower crime rates on campuses. Many schools routinely discourage students from involving local police, collecting evidence, completing a rape kit, or seeking outside legal counsel. Despite the felonious nature of these offenses, the maximum penalty likely imposed by a Student Conduct Board is expulsion. Perpetrators recognize that they will seldom face criminal prosecution and can most likely remain enrolled in school despite committing these heinous offenses.

In order for survivors of rape to obtain closure and secure proper punishment for the perpetrators of such crimes, a federal law should be enacted which prohibits colleges and universities from trying any crime related to sexual violence through Student Conduct Boards or other non criminal tribunals. Universities often claim that their Student Conduct Boards hear these cases to facilitate an easier process for student victims. Resolution of these cases before Student Conduct Boards prevents incidents from being part of official crime statistics of sexual assault at the university and more importantly fails to label the perpetrator as a sexual offender.  Considering the majority of rapists are repeat offenders they should be treated as criminals rather than students. This problem is not unique to any university, but rather is a widespread and recurring problem on college campuses nationwide.

Regrettably, no individual institution has incentive to report sexual violence cases solely to the police, as this would give them comparatively higher reported incidents of these crimes. The best way to solve this problem is by enacting legislation which prohibits university police from unilaterally responding to sexual violence cases and which prohibits universities from trying felonies involving sexual violence through Student Conduct Boards. Enacting and enforcing this legislation will ensure that survivors are supported, evidence is collected, and perpetrators are prosecuted.

Changing the law will not immediately resolve the larger problem of reducing sexual violence on college campuses, but will address criminal prosecution and punishment. If rapists are given real punishments for their crimes this could in turn increase the reporting rate of rape.  This policy only addresses one-fifth of the total incidents of sexual violence in the United States. If campus police were required to hand over cases involving sexual violence to local authorities, this could create complicated jurisdictional issues, which could delay response and create administrative challenges for universities to implement. While there are difficulties in enacting legislation to prohibit schools from trying felony sexual assault cases, this would treat the serious crime of rape on a college campus as the serious felony that it is.


Cohen, Thomas H., and Brian Reaves. Felony defendants in large urban counties, 2002. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2006. Web. <;.

Herman, Judith Lewis. “Trauma.” Trauma and Recovery: From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. London: Pandora, 1992.  Print.

 Krebs, Christopher, and Christine Lindquist. “The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study.” National Criminal Justice Reference Service. US Department of Justice, Dec. 2007. Web. <>.

Lisak, David, and Paul M. Miller. “Repeat rape and multiple offending among undetected rapists.” Violence and victims 17.1 (2002): 73-84.

“Rape and Sexual Violence.” National Institute of Justice. N.p., 26 Oct. 2010. Web. 08 Jan. 2013. <>.

“Reporting Rates: Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.”Reporting Rates Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. N.p., n.d. Web. <>.

“Sexual Violence Facts at A Glance.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., 2012. Web. <>.


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