ND releases statement on assault
Staff Report | Friday, February 18, 2011
Notre Dame released a statement Thursday in which it said it thoroughly investigates every sexual misconduct allegation, adheres to student privacy laws and does not tolerate sexual misconduct, in response to complaints directed at the University.
“Sexual misconduct is unacceptable and will not be tolerated at Notre Dame,” the statement said. “The unfortunate reality is that sexual misconduct is a serious issue at colleges and universities across the country, and we are not immune.”
The Chicago Tribune reported Thursday that Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) delayed the investigation of a sexual assault allegation that a Saint Mary’s College student filed in September against a male Notre Dame student. The Tribune cited the student and her family’s disappointment with the University’s investigation.
The Tribune also compared the case to that of Elizabeth “Lizzy” Seeberg, a Saint Mary’s student who committed suicide in September, nine days after reporting a sexual assault allegation against a Notre Dame athlete to NDSP. Seeberg’s parents expressed disappointment with the University in a December interview with the Chicago Tribune, but Notre Dame and University President Fr. John Jenkins have said the investigation had integrity.
“We regret that some are critical of our handling of sexual misconduct allegations, and we understand the pain these families are experiencing,” Notre Dame’s Thursday statement said. “At the same time, we stand behind the thoroughness, integrity and objectivity of our investigations, as well as the services available to students who are subjected to sexual misconduct.”
NDSP works with the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office, Special Victims Unit and other area police departments throughout sexual misconduct investigations, according to the statement.
“Notre Dame takes very seriously its obligation to thoroughly investigate every allegation of sexual misconduct, particularly in light of the gravity, complexity and sensitivity of these cases,” the statement said.
University spokesman Dennis Brown said the University is working with the U.S. Department of Education to review its policies on sexual misconduct allegations.
“We’re working with the department on an overall review of our policies,” he said. “This review is unrelated to any specific case.”
The University does not release information about investigations, according to the statement, because it follows the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects students’ education records, grades and disciplinary histories.
“However, beyond the limitations imposed by FERPA, it is Notre Dame’s long-held belief and policy that our students deserve certain degrees of privacy as part of the educational process, and we have stood by that principle, even in the face of the criticism that might invite,” the statement said.
According to the statement, sexual misconduct cases are particularly complicated on college campuses, when the students involved are usually acquaintances and alcohol is often a factor.
“The University works tirelessly on many fronts to combat sexual misconduct — by holding students to the highest of behavioral standards, providing victims and survivors with the resources they need, offering an array of education and prevention programs and promoting an environment of respect that honors the human dignity of each person,” the statement said.