Our Opinion: Williams assault issue provides ongoing lesson


The aftermath of the sexual assault case at Williams College in October of 2012 remains an ongoing educational process, one that should benefit not just Williams but other colleges and universities.

In an opinion page piece in the Thursday, June 5 Eagle by Williams President Adam Falk and Dean Sarah Bolton, it was written that victims are encouraged to "pursue both a criminal investigation and a disciplinary process within the college." In a column in the Williams Record, 19-year-old Lexie Brackenridge asserted that administrators persuaded her not to go to police after she was raped her freshman year. Mr. Falk and Ms. Bolton wrote that a criminal investigation can occur "before, during or even years after" the college’s own investigation, which led to a suspension for the accused. This option is certainly still open for Ms. Brackenridge, who is now a student at Columbia University. (The attorney for the alleged assailant has said that his client denies the allegations.)

Ms. Brackenridge wrote that friends of the accused, fellow members of the men’s hockey team, harassed her -- in part by throwing full beer cans at her head -- and went unpunished. In their op-ed piece, the Williams officials said the school investigates allegations of harassment against a reporting student and cited the punishments that could result. They did not say, however, if the students who harassed Ms. Brackenridge were punished in any way.

The reason may be the "commitment to confidentiality" referred to in the column, and college officials in this litigious age do have to exercise caution when it comes to privacy rights of students. Regrettably, however, that well-meaning commitment could serve as a barrier to truth and a wall for the guilty to hide behind.

The Eagle is committed to confidentiality in not disclosing the identity of rape victims, but identified Ms. Brackenridge after she identified herself in the Record. While sexual assault victims have a right to privacy, in exercising it they risk confirming the suspicions of some that they were at least partly responsible for what happened to them. There is no need for a victim to feel shame or act ashamed. That should be reserved for the attacker.

Ms. Brackenridge certainly saw no reason for shame, and instead took on the role of whistle-blower. The college and the community will be better because of it.


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