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cover 1999-2002 - SCI

cover 1999-2002 - SCI

STUDENT SUSPENSION

STUDENT SUSPENSION HEARINGS Victims on Trial: The Treatment of Sex Abuse Victims and Victims of Other Serious Crimes in Board of Education Student Suspension Hearings An investigation by this office uncovered that BOE procedures in disciplinary hearings neglect the rights of victims of sexual abuse and other crimes. The report began by focusing on a single issue at student suspension hearings: the failure of BOE procedures to protect victims from improper cross-examination about their prior sexual experience. In that case, a 14-year-old female student was asked by the attorney for the 19-year-old male student accused of sexually attacking her whether she had “ever licked any other boy’s penis” and whether she had “ever had sex with a boy.” As we detailed in our report, that line of questioning is in sharp contrast with “rape shield” or “victim shield” laws enacted more than a generation ago for victims in criminal trials. Remarkably, there is no BOE regulation, State regulation, or State law to prevent a victim of sexual Our investigation revealed that victims of sexual misconduct were being victimized again during BOE disciplinary hearings by being compelled to answer embarrassing and irrelevant questions about their sexual history. misconduct from being victimized again at a proceeding to discipline her attacker, by being compelled to answer embarrassing and irrelevant questions about her sexual history. In addition to allowing improper questioning of victims, the BOE’s disciplinary procedures neglect the rights of victims in a variety of other ways. Specifically: • Victims receive little advance notice of the hearings at which they are to testify, and are often unaware that they will be cross-examined by an attorney for the accused. 62

• Victims do not have the right to an attorney at the hearings; and, generally, no one is present to object or to otherwise protect the victim from harsh crossexamination or inadmissible evidence. • There are no counselors to support victims when confronting their attackers in the hearing room. • Victims who do not have a command of the English language do not have access to foreign language interpreters. • Hearings are held in small offices in which victims must sit facing their alleged attackers across a narrow table with little or no security. • The hearing undermines the prospects for a successful criminal prosecution of the accused. Indeed, schools rarely inform the police or prosecutors about the hearing. • Victims often miss school because their attacker still attends that school. Even when there is an arrest, an accused student cannot be sent to another school until a disciplinary hearing is conducted. Recommendations and Results This office recommended a sweeping revision of the disciplinary procedures to take into account the rights of victims and their families and to address the specific failings detailed in our report. In response, Chancellor Levy issued a statement announcing that he agreed with most of our recommendations and directing that new procedures be put in place before the start of the 2001-2002 school year. He formed an advisory committee for that purpose, led by the Deputy Counsel to the Chancellor. After study by the committee, the BOE set out to revise Chancellor’s regulation A-443. The significant changes that were made are as followed: • Rape shield protection language which establishes parameters for the admissibility of evidence regarding prior sexual history of a victim; • Expansion of the school’s right to have a staff advisor present at all suspension hearings; • Inclusion of more detailed alternative instruction requirements. 63

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