By Alexandra Moe
COLLEGE PARK – The University of Maryland Office of Student Conduct will no longer be able to keep student disciplinary proceedings on sexual assault private, according to an Attorney General’s opinion obtained by Capital News Service.
The Maryland Attorney General’s opinion states that disclosing this information, including the identity of the student suspect, does not violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Delegate Bill Bronrott, D-Montgomery, requested the opinion from the Attorney General’s Office.
“I’m a strong believer in open access and the process of Public Information Act of Maryland,” Bronrott said, “so I thought it was important that we know exactly what the letter of the law is.”
The opinion clearly states, “If the University finds that its rules or policies were violated in a matter involving concerning a forcible sexual offense, incest, or statutory rape, the final results of the disciplinary proceeding — including the identity of the accused student – may be disclosed without violating FERPA. Accordingly, the student’s identity would be available in response to a PIA request.”
Capital News Service has filed a formal request with the university for all disciplinary records of students found to have violated the code for sexual assault in the last 10 years. No officials at the University have returned calls to talk about the request.
Sexual assault on college campuses is a significant issue.
Allison Bennett from the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Program at the University of Maryland said, “One in five women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape just while they’re in college.”
On Thursday, outside one of the College Park campus libraries, victims participated in the Clothesline Project to raise awareness about sexual assault. They created T-shirts with slogans about the crime and then hung them from lines lining the plaza area.
Among the participants was a student who would give her name only as Rose because the student who assaulted her two years ago in off-campus housing is still around.
“Before this I had no idea. You never think it is going to happen to you but when it does you are kind of like, ‘AHH.'”
Victims only have a few options after they are sexually assaulted. The majority remain quiet, but others report to the police or seek administrative charges on campus. Students found in violation of the Code of Student Conduct at the university face severe penalties, including expulsion.
Questions on the access to disciplinary proceedings began two years ago when radio students with the Philip Merrill College of Journalism were doing a special report on sexual assault on campus. When the students asked for information, university officials said all information pertaining to student matters was protected under FERPA.
The Student Press Law Center in Virginia said that is not the purpose of FERPA.
Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte said, “Lots of schools misinterpret FERPA and say that anything and everything connected with the disciplinary process, even the end result of those proceedings, is confidential and you now have a ruling from the (AG) that sets that straight.”
And advocates for victims of sexual assault, like Cheryl Banks from Prince George’s Hospital Center’s Sexual Assault Center, say the public has a right to know the identities of sexual criminals.
“Most men never rape anybody,” Banks said. “But those who do tend to do it over and over again and that is where we need to be focusing.”