University addresses assault allegations in e-mail to Notre Dame community
Observer Staff Report | Tuesday, November 23, 2010
In a Tuesday e-mail to Notre Dame students, faculty and staff, Vice President for Public Affairs and Communication Jan Botz said the University investigates all allegations of sexual assault, but cannot release information about specific cases due to federal law.
The e-mail directly referred to the Chicago Tribune coverage of the circumstances surrounding the death of first year Saint Mary’s student Elizabeth “Lizzy” Seeberg.
Seeberg died in an apparent suicide Sept. 10 at 19. She had previously filed an allegation with Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) claiming a Notre Dame student sexually assaulted her. The alleged assault occurred Aug. 31, according to a St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office press release.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits universities from discussing specific disciplinary cases, Botz said.
“As a consequence, we cannot at this time publicly correct many of the false impressions created by the Tribune story, but suffice it to say as a general matter, any time that an allegation is made that a law or university policy may have been violated, we have a longstanding process in place to learn the facts and eliminate rumors, which leads to a determination of what action — if any — is appropriate to take,” she said.
Botz said NDSP collaborates with local law enforcement agencies, which, in sexual assault allegations, includes St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office and its special victims unit (SVU).
The Prosecutor’s Office released a statement Monday confirming that their office received a report from NDSP regarding the assault allegation. The Prosecutor’s Office is now reviewing it and will make a statement after the review is completed.
Botz said Notre Dame actively seeks to prevent sexual assault and address the issue when it arises. The e-mail also directed readers to the University’s Committee for Sexual Assault Prevention (CSAP) for more information. CSAP offers advice and guidance to the Office of Student Affairs on assisting and supporting victims of sexual assault, according to its website.
“It is and always will be a central tenet of Notre Dame’s mission to learn the truth and act in accordance with it,” Botz said. “As you read stories about any matter that involves our careful and thorough process, I urge you not to arrive at any conclusions until all the facts are known.”
The University will always focus on conducting thorough investigations into this and other cases, Botz said.
“Only through a serious, informed and fair process can justice be served,” she said.