New University of Michigan sexual misconduct policy leads to uptick in reported violations
Sexual assault and harassment reports comprise 12.5 percent of the 497 student code violations reported to the University of Michigan office of student conflict resolution last year.
The 62 reported violations involving students —38 reported sexual assaults and 24 sexual harassment incidents— in 2011-12 mark a significant uptick from previous years.
In 2010-11, there were a total of three alleged sexual harassment or assault violations reported, or less than 1 percent of the 537 reported Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities violations that year. In 2009-10 there were four harassment and assault violations reported, in 2008-09 there were three and in 2007-08 there were three.
The increase in reported violations doesn't necessarily mean that more sexual assaults or harassment occurred on campus. Instead, officials say, it's primarily a reflection of new reporting policies implemented last year, which make sexual misconduct easier to report.
"[Reporting guidelines] changed so much that it really is hard to know whether there really was an uptick or not," said Rick Fitzgerald, a university spokesperson.
The U.S. Department of Education in 2011 urged schools to change how they respond to sexual misconduct allegations among students. U-M is in the process of establishing a new policy and, in the meantime, is using an interim procedure, which reviews all allegations of sexual misconduct by students. Previously the university utilized a complainant-driven approach.
"Anytime that we hear of an instance of sexual misconduct, we're obligated to investigate it, as opposed to letting the complainant guide that process," Fitzgerald explained. "The process gets more of these two [violations] reported and investigated and that's a good thing."
The interim procedure also uses a “preponderance of the evidence” standard to evaluate an allegation, where previously the university used a “clear and convincing evidence" standard.
“What we do have is a shift in the way in which the university responds to reported sexual misconduct violations that brings more of these matters to our attention and allows us to take action,” Jay Wilgus, director of the student conflict office, said in a release. “And this new approach offers the campus community greater accountability.”
Of the 38 sexual assault violations reported last year, six students were found responsible and seven students were cleared of wrongdoing. In 19 cases, officials didn't have enough information to move forward. Another case was found to involve a staff member and not a student. Five were referred to other entities.
Of the 24 reported sexual harassment violations, two students were found in violation of U-M's policy, five students were cleared and 13 cases were closed because there wasn't enough information. One involved a staff member and three other complaints were referred to separate entities.
Students found in violation of the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities are subject to various disciplinary procedures, including a formal reprimand, workshop attendance, probation, community service and suspension. The violations are separate from criminal charges.
Fitzgerald said the school's new sexual misconduct policy likely will be very similar to the interim policy.
Last year the school hired a program manager for sexual misconduct to help the office of student conflict resolution handle such violations.
According to the U-M Department of Public Safety's 2012 annual report, the university's Sexual Assault, Prevention and Awareness Center recorded 45 reported sexual assaults in 2009, 50 in 2010 and 45 in 2012. Those statistics include incidents reported on and off campus dealing with U-M affiliates. They do not include intimate partner violence.