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Tuesday afternoon, Jane Roe, a newly-formed student group at the University of Michigan, penned a petition calling for the University to adjust its new policy in Title IX investigations, based on the September Title IX ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling states students accused of sexual misconduct must be allowed the right to cross-examine their accuser as a part of due process.
LSA freshman Emma Sandberg, a founding member of the organization, said adhering to this ruling would cause further trauma to survivors and discourage students from coming forward to report sexual assault.
“The harm that would be caused by this policy would be devastating,” Sandberg said. “Having to sit face to face with the person who raped you and be forced to speak, interact, and be drilled with questions by the person who violated you…I consider that to be abusive. A process this cruel will have lifelong, emotional consequences of victims of sexual assault.”
Rick Fitzgerald, assistant vice president for Public Affairs said that the University decided to implement the interim policy and will be gathering feedback on the effectiveness of the policy.
“We understand that this new element in our policy can be upsetting to those involved in the process,” Fitzgerald said. “We believe questioning by students is less traumatic than questioning by attorneys and also removes concerns that a student may not be able to hire an attorney. Also, our process remains an administrative procedure, not a court hearing.”
The ruling was made in response to a lawsuit filed by a former University student who claimed the University does not provide due process for male students accused of sexual misconduct, which the lawsuit attributed to gender discrimination. The lawsuit alleges on March 12, a female student reported to the Office of Institutional Equity that she and a male student had engaged in non-consensual sex about four months prior.
As the lawsuit reads, the male student alleged he and the female student had continued to talk with each other after the incident via Snapchat and occasionally ate together within the campus’ dining halls. He also claims the female student had sent a text message suggesting the two should have sexual intercourse once more. The student said he declined this offer, telling her the nature of their relationship was one of a casual friendship.
The female student filed another complaint pertaining to an infraction regarding a no-contact order established in April. She claimed she saw him at a University dining hall where he remained after the alleged encounter. However, the male student provided Mcard documentation proving he was not at the dining hall at the said time.
The lawsuit also cited that because of these allegations, the University forcibly revoked the student’s access to his transcripts, impeding his enrollment in a graduate engineering program. The lawsuit challenged the University’s investigative procedure and the initial withholding of the student’s transcripts.
The University released the male student’s transcripts in mid-June, about a week after the lawsuit was filed, yet the battle regarding due process remained until about a month later.
The decision, mirroring a previous 2017 case at the University of Cincinnati in which the court ruled an accused student must receive some type of hearing in cases formed by word of mouth where credibility is in question, evoked an appeal from the University itself citing similar grievances found in the Roe petition. However, Sandberg claims the University has taken the ruling a “step further” even after their appeal.
“The Sixth Circuit ruled that the University must require cross-examination by the accused or his agent,” Sandberg said. “So, the key is that they said ‘or his agent’ which would be a personal adviser or a lawyer, which is how it is done within criminal and civil cases. Currently, at other schools it is done by a lawyer. To have it be done by the accused rapist is unbelievable, I don’t know why (the University) felt that it was a better way to go about cross-examination by the accused rapist themself.”
As a student going through the Title IX investigation process, Sandberg said the act of simply reporting is exhausting.
“I am currently in a Title IX case in another school,” Sandberg said. “My case currently doesn’t require cross-examination. But, it is already very stressful — it is so much to deal with. A lot of people don’t realize how difficult these Title IX cases are, they just think about the accused. For the person who is the complainant, it is an exhausting process.”
LSA sophomore Rebecca Harley, a volunteer at Women at Risk International, a nonprofit providing support for women and children of abuse, believes this ruling will create further, unnecessary mental trauma in already difficult and lengthy situations as described by Sandberg.
“This new ruling could create further trauma for survivors of sexual assault,” Harley said. “Being in the presence of your attacker could resurface the trauma of the incident. This is an unnecessary risk that falls solely on a person who has already undergone severe mental and physical suffering.”
Sandberg supported the proposal of a written hearing done by a third party, a provision within the University’s original appeal.
“I think it’s important that each side is able to have access to evidence and the ability to respond to the cited evidence,” Sandberg said. “This could include written questions. Ideally, the Title IX investigator could privately ask each party the questions that they deem appropriate. But, I don’t know if that’s possible within the circuit ruling.”
LSA freshman Reuben Glasser, a founding Jane Roe member, believes it is the University’s responsibility to be an exemplar for handling sexual assault policies.
“The University of Michigan is a major school, so other universities pick up on our university’s policies,” Glasser said. “To have a major institution such as this to talk about rape on campus, especially cross-examination between a victim and an assailant, will help bring up that issue on different college campuses. This will hopefully make sure that colleges don’t institute rules that force this cross-examination process. We can’t publicly take a stand against cross-examination itself, but we can press forward to make it as easy as a process as possible and give the victim as much support needed.”