Letter to the editor response from the editorial board: Student convicted of sexual assault readmitted
Content warning: This story contains references to sexual assault.
The Western Front received a letter to the editor from an associate professor in the College of Business and Economics on May 30 in response to our article, “Student convicted of sexual assault readmitted.” The article describes how Western readmitted Connor Griesemer, a Western student originally charged with second-degree rape who plead down to fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation. The professor has since withdrawn the letter because they felt Griesmer had received too much negative attention already, but we felt it deserved a response.
In a letter you wrote to The Western Front, you expressed your discomfort about our decision to print the name of Connor Griesemer, a readmitted student who was convicted of sexual assault. We would like to respond to your letter by first covering some of the points you made.
You brought up that because Connor Griesemer has been through the criminal justice system, there is no longer any need for The Western Front or Western to expose him. You also stated that Griesemer’s original charge of second-degree rape, a felony, is irrelevant because the court could not find probable “evidence” to convict him, resulting in his gross misdemeanor charge of fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation.
However, it is important to note that our justice system does not have a good track record of handling rape and sexual assault cases. Rape and sexual assault survivors are often subjected to heavy victim-blaming in court by defense attorneys who are adamant about eliminating or lessening their client’s charges.
Just this year in Bellingham, a court case for Jamison Scott Rogayan, 33, accused of serial rape ended in a mistrial. This was even after multiple survivors endured hours of intrusive cross-examination on the witness stand. While over 10 women reported being sexually assaulted by him to police, he ended up only being sentenced to two years and five months in jail after pleading guilty to two counts of third-degree rape and a count of unlawful imprisonment.
Sexual assault is a nationwide epidemic for colleges, and Western is no different. Just as you stated in your letter, 20 to 25 percent of college women will experience sexual assault during their college careers. Many more will have already experienced sexual assault before their college careers even began.
But women are not the only ones who deal with sexual assault. Transgender individuals are highly susceptible to sexual violence. According to a survey by the National LGBTQ Taskforce, 12 percent of transgender youth will experience sexual assault between K-12.
Even though men are statistically less likely to be sexually assaulted, those statistics tend to show serious underreporting because of the societal appearance men feel like they must uphold. Most men who were sexually assaulted will never report it because of a fear of being seen as “emasculated” or “weak.”
Western claims to stand by all survivors of sexual assault; therefore it is the school’s duty to prevent the risk of retraumatizing those survivors by readmitting a student who the university had previously removed from campus for sexual assault.
You also brought up that alcohol is usually involved in rape cases, as it was with Griesemer’s. However, your suggestion that staying away from situations where drugs and alcohol are involved to avoid instances of sexual assault is a prime example of victim-blaming. It is important to stress that it should not be the job of individuals to constantly protect themselves from sexual assault. Believing so further perpetuates our society’s rape culture. There is no excuse for rape, and it is all of our jobs to educate ourselves about consent.
It is also a myth that avoiding alcohol prevents people from committing sexual assault. Alcohol is not at fault when someone commits sexual assault, and suggesting that it is at fault is only to shift the blame so the perpetrator doesn’t need to take responsibility for their crime.
You claimed that we invaded Griesemer’s privacy by publishing a story about him, but The Western Front did not disclose any information that was not already available through public documents. The legal definition for invasion of privacy is an “individual who unlawfully intrudes into his or her private affairs, discloses his or her private information, publicizes him or her in a false light,” none of which we did.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics states that as reporters, we must seek the truth and report it while “balancing the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort.” The importance of Griesemer’s privacy is insignificant compared to the anguish the survivor must deal with every day, and we strongly believe students deserved to know they were attending school with a student who was previously removed from Western for sexual assault. Our current justice system’s failure to properly address cases of sexual assault makes it even more important that the Western community stands up for sexual assault survivors.
We published the story acting within the guidelines of our code of ethics and continue to stand by our decision.
– The Western Front Editorial Board