CU panel off to troubling start
February 22, 2004 CU panel off to troubling start
Lack of even one sexual assault expert bodes ill for probe As Director of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), I want to express our deep concern over the composition of the panel selected by the regents of the University of Colorado to investigate charges of sexual assaults and other inappropriate and criminal behavior by its football players and Athletic Department. The NSVRC agrees with the criticism expressed by the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault that the panel should include at least one sexual assault expert. We are also disturbed by some public comments from a panel member that indicates little or no understanding of sexual victimization, and in fact, even a biased view of sexual assault victims. Finally, we question the independence of some panel members. Despite the assertion by panel member Peggy Lamm that the panel is an “excellent group” and by member Joyce Lawrence that they “will be fair, thorough and unbiased,” and CU’s contention that the group has some experience in matters of sexual assaults, the NSVRC finds the lack of a sexual assault prevention expert very troubling. While some individuals selected for this panel have a background in advocacy, in general the panel lacks deep insight and knowledge of sexual assault issues, thus making it ill-equipped to carry out this much needed investigation.
Earlier this month, as CU considered the investigation process, its President, Elizabeth Hoffman, contacted the NSVRC. At that time, we supplied Ms. Hoffman with a half dozen names of people that could bring important knowledge of sexual assault to the panel. I understand that she also spoke with other organizations, and developed a long list of individuals for consideration. So it is particularly disheartening that the regents did not select even one of the sexual assault experts identified. I am concerned that this decision reflects a deeper problem; I am concerned that it means that the regents do not understand what sexual assault experts have to offer to the process, that they do not understand how stigma affect victims and how rape myths and distortions of facts affect opinions and justice; that they do not understand the devastation of sexual violence, and have little or no knowledge of the research and literature that informs us of the complexities and nuances of this crime. While each member of this panel brings a unique set of skills, and hopefully insight in victimization issues, the panel does not have, as a whole, the requisite skills for this serious investigation concerning sexual misconduct and violence.
In fact, one member, Joyce Lawrence has made public statements that show her inadequacies for the task at hand. As recently as January 2004, The Pueblo Chieftain reported a statement by Ms. Lawrence indicating her belief that women subjected to sexual misconduct generally take action right away. This is not usually true! While some victims report immediately, very frequently, victims delay taking action, often for a very long time, and they do so for a wide variety of reasons. We can only wonder how this panel includes a person who makes such an erroneous and simplistic statement! Recently, Ms Lawrence made another very troubling statement. Lawrence told a Denver TV reporter on February 6, 2004, after she was named to serve as co-chair of the investigative panel that, "The question that I have for the ladies in this is why they are going to parties like this and drinking or taking drugs and putting themselves in a very threatening or serious position like this." This is victim-blaming at its worse! Such an attitude should horrify all of us. It implies that women who go to parties deserve or cause rape. Victim blaming is always alarming and devastating, but coming from someone who is about to embark on an investigation of sexual assault charges, the statement reveals incompetence for that task. Finally, the NSVRC joins the chorus of those expressing concern over the independence of this panel.
Several of the panel members have ties to CU, and on some theoretical level having such ties does not necessarily make panel member biased, but we ask, ‘Why not select a panel of truly independent individuals?’ Regent Susan Kirk said, “Almost anyone we propose will have direct or indirect association with the University of Colorado.” The NSVRC does not believe that finding independent, impartial individuals for the panel is virtually impossible, or even that difficult. The NSVRC asks that CU empower this investigation by adding a sexual assault expert to the panel. We also encourage the University to educate itself in the matters of sexual assault and to review the existing selection of panel members. In fact, CU has an opportunity to demonstrate how corrective action can work well in colleges by establishing a truly independent and knowledgeable panel that will seek justice and safety for all students. Karen Baker, LMSW NSVRC Director