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Guidelines needed for rape cases

For the second time in recent months, officials at a Florida college have mishandled a rape complaint against male athletes.

The latest case, this one at Pasco-Hernando Community College (PHCC), follows closely a similar incident at the University of South Florida (USF). In both cases, school officials seemed predisposed to place more credence in the athletes' version of what happened than in the women's. Even after all the fallout at USF, top PHCC officials appear to grasp neither the severity of charges of rape nor the trauma rape can inflict upon the victim.

PHCC officials appear unconcerned that their staff conducted a slip-shod investigation, even failing to interview three women who say they witnessed the incident. And they smugly maintain they gave the accuser every opportunity to take her case to law enforcement officials _ even though they suggested in her presence during a hastily-called meeting the Monday after the incident that school officials believed the athletes and not her.

Clearly, the time has come for state officials to set down guidelines for handling accusations of rape, not only for universities, but also for community colleges. Some college administrators at the local level, left on their own, seem neither willing nor able to handle properly such potentially damaging situations. Education Commissioner Betty Castor, among others, has called for such guidelines.

The rules should mandate that all allegations of rape or any other felony be referred to law enforcement officials or the state attorney's office. Educators are not trained to conduct the caliber of investigation that criminal accusations require.

Guidelines should also specify that no school official with ties to athletics be allowed to conduct any part of an investigation involving school athletes. At both PHCC and USF, the man in charge of the athletic program was trusted with the investigation of charges against his players. In both instances, the investigators showed more concern for protecting their athletic programs than for the welfare of the students.

As it stands, there is no way to determine clearly the guilt or innocence of the men accused at PHCC. That is as unfair to them as it is to the accuser and the school. At present, a cloud hangs over all three. Community college officials would be wise to welcome guidance from the state.