By Austen Hufford, Daily News Editor
Published February 26, 2013
An annual report released by the University’s primary discipline unit for students shows a marked increase in the number of sexual misconduct cases investigated internally by the University, even though the total number of disciplinary cases handled decreased. The increase follows an August 2011 federal mandate and the subsequent implementation of a new interim sexual misconduct allegation policy.
The number of sexual assault and sexual harassment reports handled through the University’s internal disciplinary process increased from three to 62 between the 2011 to 2012 academic year, when the policy went into effect, and the year prior, according to a newly released report from the Office of Student Conflict Resolutions, which is responsible for dealing with non-academic violations of the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities.
The 2011 to 2012 annual report detailed 497 reported violations of the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities during the year, which is a 7-percent drop from the 537 received during the 2010 to 2011 academic year.
The Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities — which students agree to as a condition of enrollment — details rules and procedures University students must follow. The statement explicitly lays out 21 broad categories of violations, such as “illegally possessing or using alcohol” and “sexually assaulting another person.” Not all violations are legal offenses.
OSCR investigates, determines guilt and sentences individuals who violate all non-academic violations of the statement, such as destruction of property. OSCR can sentence individuals to a variety of non-legal punishments, such as suspension from the University and substance abuse classes. In cases in which police are also investigating, OSCR’s punishments are independent from any legal consequences that may be handed down by the criminal justice system.
In cases of sexual nature, such as sexual harassment or stalking, OSCR refers cases to the University’s Office of Institutional Equity for investigation. If guilt is determined by OIE, an appropriate sentencing is handed down by OSCR.
The report covers violations between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012 and lists all reported violations of the statement, including cases where the student was eventually found not guilty.
However, University officials say there is no evidence to indicate an increase of sexual misconduct on campus. While the timeframe is different — calendar year versus academic year — there were decreases in both sexual assaults reported to University Police and the Sexual Assault and Awareness Center between 2010 and 2011, according to the University’s Annual Security Report.
In April 2011, the U.S. Department of Education asked colleges nationwide to update their sexual misconduct policies to better comply with Title IX, a federal statute that forbids sexual discrimination at universities that receive federal funding.
Under the former sexual misconduct policy, individuals who reported sex crimes had to file a formal complaint in order for OSCR to investigate. The interim policy, implemented on Aug. 19, requires the University to investigate all claims of sexual misconduct it receives. A permanent policy is expected to be implemented later this calendar year.
The interim policy states that sexual misconduct allegations that “become known to the University” must go through the investigative process.
Currently, staff and faculty members are encouraged, but not required, to report sexual misconduct allegations to the University. OSCR Director Jay Wilgus said this might change in the permanent policy, which may outline which employees are responsible for reporting. Currently, some managerial positions and security personnel are already required to report allegations.
The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, and the University’s Office of the Ombuds are the only completely confidential resources available for discussing sexual misconduct. Communication to other University affiliated employees, such as residential advisors, could be reported to OSCR.
Of the 38 individuals implicated in sexual assault violations, six were found responsible and seven were found not responsible.
Nineteen cases were not completed because of a lack of information regarding the incidents. Because of the interim policy, University officials must now attempt to investigate any sexual misconduct it learns about even if it knows very little. Many times OSCR might learn of possible sexual misconduct but not obtain enough information to have a conclusive outcome, such as cases in which the survivor didn’t see the attacker’s face.
In the remaining six cases, the accused was a University employee or an individual unaffiliated with the University.
OSCR also handles reports of sexual harassment. In two of the 24 reported sexual harassment violations individuals were found responsible, five were found not responsible and 13 cases were closed pending additional information.
After it is determined that the University fulfilled its obligations per Title IX, the unsolved cases of sexual misconduct will remain closed unless new information is brought forward.
SAPAC Director Holly Rider-Milkovich said this process shows that the University takes sexual misconduct seriously.
“It's important for our community to be able to demonstrate that we take every matter seriously, that we review them with vigor and that we hold students accountable whenever it is appropriate to do so,” Rider-Milkovich said. “That is an important message to send, and it does mean that we have a safer community because of it.”
Rider-Milkovich said she hopes one day every survivor of sexual assault will feel comfortable with coming forward and getting the help they need.
“Do I think that these numbers reflect the full nature of sexual assault that's happening on campus? No, I don't think we’re there yet. I think that the numbers would be much higher,” Rider-Milkovich said. “A goal for us to strive towards is for every person who experiences sexual misconduct on our campus to feel the safety and the support from the community to be able to bring forward these matters and seek justice, but we're not there yet.”
There was a threefold increase in the number of reported violations concerning stealing, vandalizing or destroying property — from nine cases to 21 — and the number of reported stalking cases increased from three to nine. OSCR reported nine violent offenses that were of non-sexual nature.
Almost 75 percent of violations reported to OSCR were alcohol or drug-related. In addition to these common violations, students were investigated for several other infractions, including computer violations, tampering with fire equipment and identity theft.
There were 38 possible statement violations of sexual assault reported to OSCR — compared to two in the prior academic year — and 24 reported statement violations of sexual harassment, compared to one violation in the prior academic year.
In contrast to the sexual assaults and harassment, more than 95 percent of those accused in alcohol related cases were found guilty. Wilgus said this might have to do with the severity of the accusations and the vast majority of those accused of alcohol violations immediately accept responsibility.
Possible punishments include an educational workshop on alcohol, a reflective essay, a no-contact order and even full expulsion from the University. During the 2011 to 2012 academic year, only four students were suspended for a semester or longer, but none were expelled. Out of the 764 punishments handed down that year, the vast majority were classes, educational projects and “tasks designed to benefit the community.” There were 73 disciplinary probation and six cases of restitution for damage or injury.
Wilgus said OSCR strives to ensure that the punishment meets the statement violation severity and that because some of the violations are broad, punishments can vary widely. OSCR did not release the breakdown of punishments for specific violations.