Demonstrators demand changes to ‘U’ sexual misconduct policies

Sunday, February 2, 2020 - 6:40pm

Emma Sandberg, founder of the group Roe v. Rape, speaks out against the University's sexual violence policies at the Umich: Do Better protest on the Diag Saturday afternoon.

Emma Sandberg, founder of the group Roe v. Rape, speaks out against the University's sexual violence policies at the Umich: Do Better protest on the Diag Saturday afternoon. Buy this photo
Michael Bagazinski/Daily

More than 30 people stood in the middle of heavy snow for UMich: Do Better, a protest of the University of Michigan’s sexual misconduct policy, on Saturday morning. 

Members of Take Back the Night Ann Arbor and Roe v. Rape organized the event to speak against the University policy that requires those who report incidents of sexual misconduct to be directly cross-examined by the accused party.

According to Ariel Friedlander, LSA and Art & Design senior, this protest was a direct response to University Provost Martin A. Philbert being placed on administrative leave after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against him came forward last week. Both student organizations work to improve support for survivors of sexual assault and have compiled a list of nine demands for the University to improve their policy and increase funding for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. 

Friedlander, senior student leader of Take Back the Night Ann Arbor, moderated the protest and introduced the speakers. Friedlander told The Daily the goal of this protest was to create awareness of what the organizers believe are issues with the cross-examination policy.

In 2018, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision mandated the University must allow cross-examination. However, the court allows for this questioning to be conducted by a third-party representative such as an attorney or adviser. Friedlander noted the current University policy requires the accused to directly cross-examine the accuser. 

“President Schissel claims that this (policy) is somehow less traumatizing to victims and that is the right thing to do,” Friedlander said. “But we know this further traumatizes victims who are already dealing with the repercussions of sexual violence and their own trauma and further deters people from reporting.”

University administrators have argued allowing for third-party cross-examination would make the process unfair for those who are unable to afford legal counsel. Activists have responded the University should pay to provide counsel if needed.

In a previous interview with The Daily, E. Royster Harper, former vice president of student life, said the University requires direct cross-examination because it does not want to recreate “a mini court scene that isn’t effective in the system.” However, some students have continued to maintain the process is traumatizing and prevents individuals from reporting.

At Saturday’s protest, five speakers shared personal stories of sexual assault and their disappointment with the University’s process when they tried to seek help. 

LSA sophomore Emma Sandberg, founder of Roe v. Rape, said the investigation carried out by her perpetrator's university into her sexual assault case retraumatized her during her freshman year. Sandberg also criticized the University policy requiring an in-person cross examination in student sexual misconduct cases. 

"It should not be necessary for survivors to have to go around explaining to administrators why we have the belief that no survivor should be cross-examined by their perpetrator," Sandberg said. "Survivors on this campus are tired of speaking but not being listened to."

Pam Swider, a Take Back the Night Ann Arbor community leader, spoke of a sexual assault she experienced more than 20 years ago and said her situation was not unique on college campuses. She said the only regret she has about not reporting her assault was that her assailant was able to get away with hurting someone else.

“I stand here 25 years later with regrets about that, not because he wasn't punished for what he did to me,” Swider said. “What I can’t let go is that because I blocked it out, I didn’t report it and he most likely did it to someone else. You see, his boys and him had a whole setup going. I was targeted. They had a whole system. So they did it to me. They did it to others. I probably wasn’t the first. And there’s no way I was the last. And I carry that with me forever.”

Kinesiology sophomore Erin Evans said she came to the event to support survivors of sexual assault and to educate herself about the University’s sexual misconduct policies.

“I came out today to learn more about the sexual assault policies on campus and stand with the students on campus who have been affected by this policy already,” Evans said. “I want to make sure that the University knows that our concerns are real and there's power in our numbers here today. To stand with survivors as a survivor, making sure that our words are heard.”

Reporter Jasmin Lee can be reached at itsshlee@umich.edu

A previous version of this article misquoted LSA sophomore Emma Sandberg. This article has also been updated to clarify which university carried out an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.