February 22, 2013

Dear Students,

I write with an update on sexual assault reporting.  As you know, sexual assault is a major concern at colleges and universities nationwide, and also at Williams.  Important work continues across campus–among students, staff, and faculty–to improve our prevention, awareness, and response.  You can expect to hear recommendations from the sexual assault prevention and awareness group (a collaborative of students and staff) for improving investigation and hearing processes very soon. In the meantime, I wanted to give you the annual update on reports that have been made, as well as on the outcomes of disciplinary processes.  (For immediate information on how to report an assault or on how to get help or support for yourself or a friend, click here, or call Sexual Assault Survivor Services at (413) 597-3000.)

As you may recall, last year’s committees recommended that we make known to campus each winter the number of assaults that had been reported in the previous academic year, and summarize the disciplinary outcomes of those cases.  (Students felt strongly that these summaries should not happen immediately following the report of an assault to the deans, for the protection of the survivor.  The exception would be in the case where there is a clear danger to the larger campus, in which case the law and our safety obligations require that we make an announcement immediately.)

Sexual assault is both a crime and a violation of the college’s code of conduct.  As a result, students who experience assault can report it to the Dean’s Office for disciplinary action at the college, and can also report it to the Williamstown Police Department for legal action.   These two processes can happen in any order, and we encourage students to do both.

Thirteen sexual assaults were reported to campus staff in 2011-2012.  (This excludes assaults that were discussed only in therapy with staff in Psychological Counseling Services, as those conversations are fully confidential.)  Of those thirteen, four students who reported assaults have not, thus far, decided to take part in either the legal or the disciplinary process.  Three students reported assaults committed by those who were not current members of the Williams community, which meant that the college could not pursue a disciplinary process.  The remaining six cases were investigated by the Dean’s Office in collaboration with Campus Safety and Security, and the evidence assessed to determine whether there was a violation of the college’s code of conduct.   In five of the six cases, a preponderance of the evidence indicated that a student had committed sexual assault (sexual activity without effective consent).    In all of those cases the students found to have committed assault were removed from campus, with sanctions ranging from one to five semesters of suspension.  The average length of suspension was just over three semesters.  Three students (including two of those reporting assaults by those not at Williams) also reported to the police, who investigated the cases and brought them forward to court.

National data indicate that sexual assault is greatly underreported, for many reasons, including the difficulty of talking about a very personal and very traumatic experience.  Typical numbers at college campuses suggest that over 90% of such assaults are not reported. We are working to lessen the difficulty of reporting as much as possible.

Consistent with that national picture, the thirteen reports we received in 2011-2012 likely represent only a small fraction of the sexual assaults that took place at Williams that year.  Our anonymous survey data collected in spring 2011 indicate a total of 45-50 acts of penetration without consent (rape) and many more sexual assaults of other kinds occur here each year.

These numbers are, of course, very profoundly troubling. We must continue do all we can to prevent assaults, to support students who experience assault, and to hold accountable those who commit these crimes.

If you have any questions, or would like to talk, please do not hesitate to reach out to any of the resources listed below.   It’s important to know that many forms of support (including changes of housing, no contact orders, counseling, medical care, and more) are available to students who have experienced assault, regardless of whether they decide to take part in the disciplinary or legal processes.  Much more information on those options can be found here.

Thank you for the work so many of you are doing to make Williams a stronger, and safer, community for everyone.



Dean Sarah Bolton




Counselors with special training in helping survivors of sexual assault are available at these sources.  All provide services for survivors of any sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.

  • Sexual Assault Survivor Services (SASS) 441-6783
  • Williams College Health Center 597-2206
  • Williams College Psychological Counseling 597- 2353 (or on call 24/7 through Campus Safety at 597-4444)
  • Rape and Sexual Assault Network of Williams 597- 4100
  • Elizabeth Freeman Center 499-2425
  • Donna Denelli-Hess (Health Educator) 597-3013
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline  1-800-656-HOPE
  • National Sexual Assault Online Hotline – https://ohl.rainn.org/online/
  • For a list of resources with particular focus on the needs of LGBTQ survivors, see http://barcc.org/information/resources-online/glbt

Other resources that may be helpful include:

  • Peer Health 597-3140
  • Chaplain’s Office 597-2483
  • Dean’s office 597-4171 (or on call 24/7, through Campus Safety at 597-4444)
  • Davis Center 597-3340



Sarah Bolton,  Dean of the College and Professor of Physics

Williams College

Williamstown, MA 01267

Phone: (413) 597-4261

Fax: (413) 597-3507