The number of reported sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence and stalking cases at the University of Michigan increased from 2017 to 2019, according to two reports released in January, one by the University’s Division of Public Safety and Security and the other from the Office of Institutional Equity. In this article, the term “sexual misconduct” will refer to a grouping of sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking and dating violence cases, unless otherwise noted.
According to the DPSS report, from 2017 to 2019, the number of reported sexual misconduct incidents increased from 96 to 140. The greatest increase was in reports of stalking, which grew from 24 incidents in 2017 to 50 in 2019. Incidents of fondling and domestic violence also increased between 2017 and 2019.
DPSS used data from OIE and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, as well as its own data, to formulate the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report. This report, released in January, includes statistics not only on sexual misconduct but also other types of crime.
While the total number of sexual misconduct incidents per year reported to Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center from 2017 to 2019 stayed around the mid- to low-300’s, sexual harassment cases specifically sharply increased, according to the DPSS report. While there were 45 sexual harassment cases reported to SAPAC in 2017 and 10 in 2018, this number grew to 89 in 2019. The number of stalking cases reported to OIE also grew, from 40 in 2017 and 31 in 2018 to 52 in 2019.
OIE also released its own January report separate from DPSS only on statistics of the cases reported to OIE, which, like the DPSS report, show the total number of sexual misconduct cases reported went up significantly starting in 2017 and has continued to rise since then. Starting in 2014, there were 134 OIE violations, which increased to 322 in 2020. Between 2014 and 2020, annual OIE violations increased almost every year.
Unlike the DPSS report, the OIE report does not include information on sexual harassment. Because sexual harassment specifically is not a crime that is mandatory to report for data collection under the Clery Act, a consumer protection law that aims to provide transparency around campus crime statistics and policy, student-reported sexual harrassment cases do not get directed to OIE by whomever the students reports it to.
OIE and DPSS are the two organizations at the University that oversee sexual misconduct reports and investigations. When a student reports sexual misconduct to a responsible employee, that employee is mandated in their employment contract to report the case to either OIE or DPSS, depending on the employee’s role.
SAPAC is an additional resource that helps student survivors by offering peer-led support groups and directing them to further assistance through referrals. SAPAC is confidential, meaning they “will not share any information with anyone” unless there is a potential for harm to the student or others. Though SAPAC does not oversee reports and investigations, they do collect data to use in reports by the other two organizations due to the Clery Act.
SAPAC Director Kaaren Williamsen said SAPAC internally tracks the identities of students who report but does not include that information when giving it to DPSS to be included in their annual report, as specified by the Clery Act. OIE is also required to report sexual misconduct statistics to DPSS because of the Clery Act.
University community discusses results of the reports
Elizabeth Seney, the OIE Title IX coordinator, discussed the increased cases in the two reports. Seney, who is in charge of deciding whether OIE will investigate sexual misconduct cases, collects data of these cases and looks at trends in internal aggregate data documents.
Seney said the increase in reported cases does not necessarily mean there are more instances of sexual misconduct on campus, but instead that more people are reporting.
“In general, it is never the case where we can look at the numbers and the trends and pinpoint exactly what is going on,” Seney said. “But generally speaking, I don’t necessarily interpret an increase, or … decrease to mean that there is more or less of a particular type of conduct happening. I tend to first think about reasons why people might be reporting more or less.”
OIE does not require people to include their identities in reporting, but Seney said students who report as identifying as LGBTQ+ tend to have a higher risk of facing sexual misconduct.
SAPAC has noticed a significant increase in the number of graduate students coming to the center as compared to undergraduate students in the past year, according to SAPAC Associate Director Anne Huhman. She said this increase may be a result of increased community outreach within the graduate student community in recent years.
“The first thing that came to my mind in terms of a clear trend is actually more around undergrad versus grad,” Huhman said. “We’ve definitely seen a trend of more graduate students coming forward. We’ve possibly seen a connection between increased community outreach, education, and training efforts with the grad student population.”
According to Seney, it is impossible to say what caused the number of sexual misconduct reports to go up, but she said there are several possible explanations for the data trend.
“Some of the factors that tend to influence (the number of reports), which I think align pretty well with those years (2017-2019), is an increase in the training that we do about reporting,” Seney said. “When there are policy changes, and … a refresh of training on reporting and required reporting, (the number of reports increases).”
A change in the definition of sexual misconduct in U-M policy documents may also have contributed to the increase. In 2016, the definition of stalking was revised to be more specific and included it as a formal form of sexual misconduct. As a result, she said, there was an increase in the number of stalking cases that were reported starting in 2017.
Seney also said social movements and increased exposure of sexual misconduct in the media have a large impact on people’s perception of these offenses, which might influence survivors to come forward.
“The other thing is when there’s issues in the news, both nationally and at the University, (reports increase),” Seney said. “Every year, starting around the beginning and the height of the #MeToo movement in late 2017, we have seen more news coverage about particular cases, and about how universities … and other educational institutions handle these things. I think sometimes that can bring reports to the forefront because it’s on people’s mind.”
Huhman echoed Seney’s statement and said the increase in exposure of sexual misconduct cases could potentially influence people’s decision to come forward.
“We do know what some of the common complex barriers are for survivors to come forward,” Huhman said. “I do think if there’s heightened visibility around it, sometimes people see others having the courage to come forward, and that can always be a powerful influence.”
There has been a number of high-profile sexual misconduct cases at the University in recent years, particularly among faculty and staff. In 2018, The Daily conducted an investigation that uncovered over 40 years of sexual misconduct from former Music, Theatre & Dance professor Stephen Shipps. David Daniels,another former Music, Theatre & Dance professor,was fired in March 2020 over sexual assault allegations that occured during and before his tenure at the University. Former U-M Provost Martin Philbert was removed from his position in March 2020, leading to a report from WilmerHale finding over 20 years of sexual misconduct during his time at the University.
Robert E. Anderson, deceased former University athletics physician and University Health Services director, currently has over 100 sexual misconduct allegations being litigated going back 50 years in his time at the University. Engineering professor Jason Mars was accused of sexual misconduct in Feb. 2020, and Engineering professor Peter Chen is currently on administrative leave following criminal sexual misconduct charges.
Tamiko Strickman, the University’s OIE director, is facing two lawsuits claiming she mishandled sexual assault and racial discrimination cases while working at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Strickman worked as an investigator, deputy Title IX coordinator, Title IX coordinator and OIE director at UNL from 2015 to 2019.
LSA senior Samantha Schubert, co-president of University Students Against Rape and Take Back the Night Ann Arbor, wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily that the rise of the #MeToo movement and increased support for those who have been assaulted have helped survivors to come forward.
However, Schubert added the general consensus on campus has “become less trusting of the University’s ability to handle these cases,” particularly when the University was required to amend its sexual assault guidelines in 2019 after the Doe v. Baum ruling in 2018. The amended University policy required mandatory live cross-examination, during which the person who alleges assault is questioned by their alleged assaulter, which drew criticism from the University community. Policy from former President Donald Trump’s administration mandated these cross-examinations for all universities but by a third-party such as a lawyer, which some on campus saw as a small win within what they believed to be still-problematic cross-examinations.
“The general sense in the community was that it was detrimental to survivors, who were already under a lot of pressure when going through the University’s reporting system,” Schubert wrote. “U-M student orgs advocating for survivors were especially appalled. I know that there was a huge amount of anger amongst the members of my own org.”
Students have also taken “matters into their own hands,” Schubert wrote, pointing to the Assaulters at Umich Twitter account that was created in June 2020 and shut down in November 2020. This account posted pictures and names of people who were accused of sexual assault by direct messages from anonymous students. None of the allegations on the account have been verified by The Daily or any other news organization.
“I believe it’s just an example of how the students feel: There is no accountability through the University,” Schubert wrote.
Schubert also wrote that the University Students Against Rape organization has encountered challenges in partnering with SAPAC for events, often receiving no responses when reaching out.
“It’s a little ridiculous, if I’m being honest,” Schubert wrote. “I personally have more faith in the survivor community for help and support than the University, though I understand the resources through SAPAC can be especially important to undergrad survivors.”
Williamsen emphasized the importance of support and said many people who may have survived sexual misconduct might feel alone when they see coverage about sexual assault in the media. People who are uncertain about their experience with unwanted sexual advances might also reconsider their experience as sexual harassment, according to Williamsen.
“Certainly, people feel harmed by (the political climate and the media),” Williamsen said. “They feel alienated, distressed, and all of those things contribute to somebody’s holistic experience of feeling isolated, or alone, or their level of personal resilience might be low because there is so much conflict in the culture right now. But I think people come to us not usually sure how to describe how to call their thing, and we won’t ever tell them how to call their thing. We just assist them, and listen, and support as they are making sense of the type of experience they might have had.”
SAPAC is hosting Wellness Weekly sessions for survivors that focus on well-being and self-care in hopes of reducing feelings of isolation. SAPAC is also at the early stages of building a program for graduate students led by student volunteers that will include workshops geared toward experiences specific to graduate students. They are also hosting a Michigan Men program, where people of all identities are welcomed to join and discuss masculinity and its impact on individuals, relationships and communities.
Daily Staff Reporter Caroline Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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