To the editor:
During the Berkshire County district attorney forum on July 31, the candidates for DA were asked about two campus sexual assault bills pending in the Legislature.
In his response, Paul Caccaviello chose to describe the complex problem of campus sexual assault by pointing to Williams College, specifically, for failing to report incidents of sexual violence to the criminal legal system and to advocate for the legal rights of student survivors of intimate violence.
Mr. Caccaviello's assertions are patently and categorically false. His own predecessor, David Capeless, refuted this point in a lengthy interview with iBerkshires in 2014, saying "My understanding from talking to [Williamstown Police] Chief [Kyle] Johnson is that when [Williams] gets incidents, they report it to the police. Even when the victim doesn't want to talk to the police, they tell the police just so they know. Unfortunately, there's been a misunderstanding of what colleges are doing. It's too easy to think that they have every reason to suppress the idea that there are assaults on their campus. But they're not suppressing the information."
To be effective in advocating on behalf of crime victims, advocates — whether on campus, in community-based agencies like the Elizabeth Freeman Center, or in the DA's own victim-witness advocacy program — have to help victims understand their options, and the benefits and barriers to accessing them. Williams presents students with all their legal and disciplinary options, and supports them in accessing those, either directly or via connection with off-campus resources.
Survivors of violence often weigh whether they can endure the publicity and pain of a criminal proceeding. That self-searching, at the same time they are reacting to and trying to begin their recovery from trauma, has to include a consideration of whether a criminal complaint is likely to lead to a conviction.
The DA's office makes the final choice about whether to pursue prosecution in cases of sexual violence that occur in Berkshire County. This includes cases affecting students of the four colleges located here. Mr. Caccaviello needs to tell the voters of our county how many cases of peer-to-peer, alcohol-involved sexual assault and rape his office has chosen to bring to trial, and how many cases they have pleaded out to lesser, non-sexual offenses or agreed to continue without a finding.
With that information, the voters of Berkshire County can decide on Sept. 4 whose advocacy has come up short.
The writer is the director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at Williams College.