Reports of sexual misconduct increase by 33 percent in 2015

Wednesday, January 20, 2016 - 10:48pm

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The Office for Institutional Equity’s second annual sexual misconduct report found the number of reports of sexual misconduct at the University has increased 33 percent since 2014, jumping from 129 incidents to 172 in 2015.

The report, released Thursday morning, showed that though the number of cases reported rose, the number of investigations remained unchanged. While 21 percent of cases received full investigation in 2014, 17 percent of cases were investigated this year.

The University is currently under federal investigation by the Department of Education, for its handling of several sexual assault cases.

Of the 172 cases presented in 2015, 29 were investigated, 66 were referred to the Review Panel and 78 did not fall within “the scope of the Policy,” according to the report. The number of cases reviewed by the panel — which included representatives from the University's Sexual Assualt Prevention and Awareness Center, police and a member of the office of general counsel Timothy Lynch — or addressed in an alternative manner increased by 18 and 21 from 2014 respectively.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Anthony Walesby, the University Title IX coordinator, who also serves as the senior director of OIE, suggested the rise in sexual misconduct reports stems from improved education efforts and awareness of the definition of misconduct, as well as of the policies and procedures involved.

A 2015 University campus climate survey on sexual misconduct revealed that only 3.6 percent of students who reported having at least one unwanted sexual experience at the University chose to report the incident to an official University resource or law enforcement.

“This is a very underreported issue that happens, and so I think the more and more reports that we get and the more opportunities we have to address concerns is a good thing,” Walesby said. “We are addressing issues on our campus, and so we see it increase in number of reports that come forward.”

Of the 29 reports investigated, OIE concluded 10 cases to be in violation of the policy, with a total of 33 potential policy violations considered. In 17 of the 29 cases, investigators did not find enough evidence to cite a sexual misconduct violation. Two cases are still pending.

Walesby is responsible for deciding whether a University investigation will be conducted, although a review panel provides input in the decision, what actions should be taken if the perpetrator is unknown and whether they believe other measures could be considered.   

Walesby said while only 29 were fully investigated from beginning to end, he considers all cases to have been thoroughly reviewed.

“I would say that all 172 are investigated,” Walesby said. “There is effort that goes into each one of those matters … we are looking into it. I can definitely guarantee you that if there is an issue that can be investigated and is appropriate for us to investigate, we don’t hesitate.”

As of Oct. 1, 2015, three students who violated the policy by engaging in sexual assault were permanently separated from the University, according to the report.

Additionally, the OSCR proposed temporary separations — a set period of time in which students are unable to enroll in classes or participate in University events — against two students for one year or less.

Other students found in violation of the policy received a series of disciplinary sanctions including probation, no contact between respondent and complaint, and educational measures. These sanctions could also have been applied to the two students who received temporary separations. Overall, four sanctions of disciplinary probation, seven sanctions mandating no contact between the respondent and the complainants and four sanctions that included educational measures were given. If any of the respondents still at the University engage in any other form of misconduct, they will face further sanctions up to expulsion.

Seventy-eight of the 172 cases this year were deemed to be outside of the scope of the policy. The report highlighted three reasons this may occur: the behavior is not considered sexual misconduct, the respondent is not affiliated with the University or the alleged victim reveals no such unwanted conduct took place.

When there is insufficient information to classify a complaint— the respondent’s identity is unknown, the investigation is unwanted and/or the complainant requests confidentiality — the Review Panel then discusses the report and advises the Title IX coordinator on the next course of action. Sixty-six cases of the cases reported this year were reviewed by the panel, which consists of University faculty and staff, in this fashion, and of the 66 reviewed, 55 were “closed.”

However, Walesby emphasized that when OIE finds insufficient evidence to prove violation of the policy, it does not mean the conduct did not occur. He stressed that when reviewing a report, he and the other panel members consider the concrete facts of each individual case.

“When we issue a report of no violation, we’re not saying that it didn’t happen,” Walesby said. “We’re saying that the evidence was insufficient in terms of knowing enough to say that there was a violation. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but the evidence doesn’t support that.”

Panel members decide whether the case falls within the scope of the current policy. According to the policy, the Title IX coordinator makes the final decision on “whether, how, and to what extent the University will conduct an investigation, and whether other measures will be taken.”

Walesby said even in those cases outside of the policy’s scope, the University does all it can to support complainants. In all cases of misconduct, complainants and respondents are offered appropriate support and resources as well as interim measures — steps taken to protect those involved, including safety escorts, scheduling changes and housing changes.

“We may not be able to address the allegations themselves, but we might be able to do something,” Walesby said. “There may be something that falls outside of our policy but we still make sure persons have resources.”

The University’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy has undergone several revisions over the past years, starting with an interim policy put in place in 2011 in response to a “Dear Colleague” letter from the Department of Education to colleges across the country recommending that they update their policies. A 2012 revision to the policy prompted the creation of the now-annual OIE report, among other changes — previously, the Office of Student Conflict Resolutions handled the publication of this data, incorporating the sexual misconduct cases in a subsection of a larger report of student complaints, violations, resolutions and sanctions.

The current sexual misconduct policy was implemented in August 2013. The updated version decreased the burden of proof applied in sexual misconduct cases, requiring decisions to be made based on a “preponderance of evidence.”

After extensive data collection and feedback, University President Mark Schlissel said in September he aims to release another revised version of the policy before the year’s end.

“It’s ongoing,” Walesby said of the revisions. “But we expect to finalize the latest version shortly. The intent is to make it understandable and readable.”

Draft changes released by the University in the fall included altering the definition of coercion, force and incapacitation. Attendees at an October SAPAC roundtable discussion noted that the current policy does not clearly specify the number of drinks it takes to be incapacitated and unable to give consent. They also expressed concern about the current definition of consent.

“We got great feedback from our campus community, and we’re still looking at all that and what it might mean,” Walesby said. “Some of the things that we grapple with within the definitions is trying to be fair to both parties. We’re hopeful that wherever we land in terms of the language that it’s sending the clearest message that we can, recognizing that these issues themselves are difficult.”

At the SAPAC roundtable discussions, there were also discussions about several other draft changes, such as improving interim measures, increasing support for survivors, deciding how students should be chosen to sit on the advisory board and whether to identify witnesses.

“Any suggestions that folks have, we’re very, very interested in that,” Walesby said. “I think our new policy will be great, but it’s informed by the responses that we get from all our campus community.”

Clarification: This article was edited to clarify that Timothy Lynch does not sit on Review Panels, but instead of member of his office is represented on the panel.