About 50 students protested Wednesday afternoon in the “Human Chain for Survivors” event on the Diag in front of Hatcher Library. The protest contested the University of Michigan’s interim sexual misconduct policy requiring a peer-to-peer cross-examination in all Title IX cases, including cases of sexual misconduct and assault. The policy has been highly contested since it was implemented in December 2018. Roe v. Rape as well as the University chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, hosted Wednesday’s event.
Last year, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case of Doe v. Baum the University must allow cross-examination in sexual assault cases. The University petitioned for the Sixth Circuit Court to rehear the trial in October 2018, but was denied. The University’s interim policy implemented the cross-examinations and added a tenet that requires the question to be peer-to-peer.
LSA sophomore Emma Sandberg is one of many students who has argued peer-to-peer questioning forces the perpetrator to question their victim, inciting trauma and anxiety in survivors.
“When someone has been sexually assaulted, they feel a sense of powerlessness and that’s one of the big reasons why people report: to take back their power and stand up to their perpetrator,” Sandberg said. “When a university allows a perpetrator to cross-examine their victim, the university is in effect allowing that perpetrator to have power over the victim again and I consider that to be cruel.”
Sandberg founded the non-profit Roe vs. Rape over the summer and is currently executive director of the organization.
“The group helps survivors through activism and attempts to prevent sexual assault through education,” Sandberg said.
Protestors linked together with a rope and the number of participants grew from ten to 50. Some protesters held signs in addition to the chants. Posters reflected similar messages, and one poster had a quote from a fireside chat given by University President Mark Schlissel earlier in the year: “We thought… it might be less traumatizing to have a peer ask questions of another peer.” Similar messages were written in chalk around the Diag.
The activists chanted various slogans, such as: “Join the chain, this policy’s insane,” “We reject the administration’s disrespect,” “Say it loud, say it clear: no perpetrator is our peer,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, direct questioning has got to go.”
LSA junior Elyas Perry said he joined the chain in part because of his friend who has suffered similar trauma.
“I’ve experienced firsthand how neglectful some of these policies that the University has can be,” Perry said. “With the addition of this policy here, where perpetrators can actually cross-examine victims face-to-face. I have a little bit more perspective on how damaging that can be.”
One of the protesters’ primary demands was to require attorneys to conduct the cross-examination, not the respondents and claimants themselves. Previous responses to the issue from administration is that it raises issues of equity and accessibility with students unable to afford attorneys. In an interview with The Daily earlier this month, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, said bringing in attorneys would create mini-court scenes on campus and the “last thing” administration wants to do is perpetuate the broken system of handling sexual misconduct cases.
To resolve this problem, the protestors believe the University has a responsibility to cover hourly attorney costs for the duration of the cross-examination, rather than turning to peer-to-peer questioning.
“Unfortunately, when you have cross-examination in university sexual misconduct cases, it will be like a courtlike procedure. There’s nothing we can do about that,” Sandberg said. “All they can do is try to make the procedure as good as it can be and the current policy that they have is unimaginable. Anything would be better than the current policy.”
Medical student Solomon Rajput, who is currently challenging U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, for her seat in Congress, attended the event and said the turnout shows the importance of challenging the sexual assault policy.
“There are so many people who’ve decided they’re going to take the time out of their busy schedule in order to take a stance on this issue,” Rajput said. “You can’t just do what’s convenient or what is going to be polite in order to see the change that you want to happen.”
Claire Hao contributed to this story.