Following revisions to its Student Sexual Misconduct Policy in 2012, the University has released its first annual report devoted exclusively to incidents of sexual misconduct, which have been reported at an increasing rate in the last four years.
The report provides details of the 129 reported incidents of potential sexual misconduct this year and how those proceedings were handled.
“Since this is our first report, our interest is making sure that it’s useful to the campus community, especially for our students,” said Anthony Walesby, the University’s Title IX coordinator and associate vice provost for academic and faculty affairs. “Students can read it and look at the information, and say, ‘OK, this would have been more helpful had you presented it this way or if there were more hyperlinks,’ or whatever it might be — that will be useful for us to know.”
In previous years, the data was published annually by the Office of Student Conflict Resolution as a subsection of its larger report concerning all forms of student complaints, violations, resolutions and sanctions. This year, the Office of Institutional Equity, in accordance with the University’s new sexual misconduct policy, published this independent report separate from the OSCR data.
The University’s new policy was implemented in August 2013 following the two-year interim policy that was put in place in August 2011. The interim policy came as a response to a “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the U.S. Department of Education recommending that universities update their procedures for handling such incidents.
Most notably, the new policy amended the burden of proof required for finding a person responsible for allegations of sexual misconduct. The University previously practiced a higher “clear and convincing” standard. Under the new policy, cases are decided based on a “preponderance of evidence,” which in practice means the standard of evidence that is more likely than not an incidence of sexual misconduct took place.
This year’s sexual misconduct report, which spans July 2013 to June 2014, describes the procedures students followed after reporting an incident as a way of educating the University about the new policy.
“In pulling this out separate from the OSCR report, my hope is that anybody who reads it — faculty, staff, students, members of the public — will be able to say, ‘OK, here is what happened in these cases,’” Walesby said. “They were all taken very seriously.”
This year, students reported 129 issues of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault, sexual harassment and stalking, among others. This is an increase from the 83 reported in 2012-13, the 71 reported in 2011-12 and the nine reported in 2010-11. During 2009-10, only four were reported.
“The more reports, the better,” Walesby said. “Again, I wish these things were not occurring, but I think it’s a healthy sign that we have so many students who are willing to come forward and share their experiences. So I think it’s a good thing in an otherwise bad situation.”
Walesby said the increased reporting may require the University to hire additional investigators in the future.
Of the 129 reported incidents this year, 68 were for sexual assault, 34 for sexual harassment, 18 for stalking, two for retaliation — actions taken against the complainant for filing a complaint — and 11 classified as “other.”
Twenty-seven of the 129 were investigated by OIE, 48 went to a review panel and 58 were determined to “not fall within the scope of the policy,” according to the report. This means that alleged misconduct did not constitute sexual misconduct, even if proven true. In these instances, the report says, appropriate steps were taken for the complainant, such as a referral to Counseling and Psychological Services.
A review panel is formed when it is initially unclear whether investigation will be necessary or possible given the information available. The panel, made up of University faculty and staff members, reviews the situation and offers advice about how to proceed to Walesby, who then determines to either close the case, proceed with investigation or take other interim measures.
“Interim measures” are implemented to ensure the safety of the campus community, specifically the complainant. The report lists the changing of academic schedules and housing arrangements as examples.
Of the 27 incidents investigated by OIE, 11 were found to be violations. Fifteen resulted in rulings of no violation and one was closed without a finding.
The report details the severity of discipline for students found to have violated the University’s sexual misconduct policy after these investigations.
According to Walesby, discipline can entail educational outreach such as writing a reflective essay and completing a reading list. Discipline can also be more severe, including temporary or permanent separation from the University, equal to expulsion.
The report lists four incidents in which the University placed a student on disciplinary probation for more than one year — twice for non-penetrative sexual assault and once for stalking and sexual harassment.
One student was placed on disciplinary probation for less than one year for stalking. In addition, there were two instances of temporary separation of greater than one year for stalking and non-penetrative sexual assault.
One student was permanently separated from the University, which corresponds to a report in The Michigan Daily that former Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons was permanently separated from the University after being found responsible for sexual misconduct.
Last month, an anonymous group of survivors and allies held a protest on the Diag in which they directed seven demands to the University for improving its approach to sexual assault on campus — including increased support for survivors of sexual violence, mandatory signs posted in every Greek and cooperative house defining the definition of consent and a mandatory training system for incoming students regarding sexual assault to be completed before coming to campus.
In addition, the University is one of several institutions under investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for allegations that it committed Title IX violations by failing to adequately respond to instances of sexual misconduct.
An analysis by The Washington Post in July reported that the University ranked second among the universities in question in sexual assaults between 2010 and 2012.
“When I see those high reporting rates, I think to myself that’s one more student who has felt comfortable in sharing the feeling of harm and has connected to the spectrum of resources,” said Holly Rider-Milkovich, director of the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, in a July interview. “I am proud of the reporting rate that we have achieved.”
The University’s report on sexual misconduct does not list specific geographic trends that might provide a pattern for sexual misconduct activities on campus, partly because the University is trying to maintain a balance between maintaining the privacy of complainants while being transparent about what sexual misconduct trends there are, Walesby said.
“We’re always looking for patterns,” Walesby said, noting that students have pointed out spots on campus that are particularly dark at night. During an investigation, OIE will often look to see if a person has been accused in the past, and will connect those instances to patterns of sexual misconduct in certain residence halls or other locations.
Each step of the process also results in an evaluation that the complainant and the accused — which the report calls “the respondent” — can appeal. In 70 percent of cases, there was no appeal by either the complainant or the respondent, according to the report.
Walesby emphasized the importance of a fair and thorough process in which all involved communicate separately with the University while being given the option to have a lawyer present, appeal and remove or reinsert themselves at any point.
This goes for the respondent, too.
“I know for the persons who are accused it can be a very difficult time, so we have resources as well,” Walesby said. “We want them to also feel like, ‘OK, I would rather not be in this situation, but I do have confidence that the process is fair, I do have confidence that the process is thorough, that my voice is heard.’”