Letter to the Editor: Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Julia Romero '10

The new sexual harassment policy is a vast improvement on the old one, but there are still some serious concerns that I have about its application. In the proceedings of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, deliberate effort is made to observe the due process rights of the defendants. In the case of the ICC, these would be people who have committed heinous crimes against humanity. At first glance I am not quite convinced that Colgate affords these rights to those accused of sexual misconduct.

There is a provision for the victim to request confidentiality, and this would effectively place a gag order on the accused. I see the intentions behind this procedure, however, I think that the restrictions of this rule need to be much more specific, with explicit allowance for the accused to talk to council and to communicate with any mental health professional that they may need. Furthermore, in the hearings process there is a strict ban on legal council. Accusations of sexual misconduct are a very serious matter and often go hand-in-hand with criminal investigations. With these hearings being on the record it is strikingly short sighted to deny the presence of legal advice for the protection of both parties involved.

In this country the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is the foundation of our criminal legal system. However the impression that I have received so far is that victims would not be bound by these confidentiality agreements.

The behaviors covered by the new policy are very serious and even accusations have serious implications. At the same time when rumors are spread, actions could be exaggerated or contexts and circumstances might be omitted.

Destroying the reputation of someone who stands accused of committing an act of misconduct before any official finding has been reached is a total abrogation of the principle of presumed innocence.

This new policy comes along way in terms of meaningfully addressing the problems of sexual assault and harassment that we face on this campus. However, I think that we still need to be mindful of the potential shortfalls or ambiguities that are still left.