New law to expand sexual assault awareness training in schools

If you think that you have been sexually assaulted or harassed, it is not your job to determine whether or not you were violated. Your job is to report it.

That’s the underlying idea behind Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, according to Olivet’s Title IX Coordinator David Pickering. When Title IX was created, it only addressed gender equity in college athletics. Now, it serves as a protection against sexual assault or harassment. Moreover, as of Aug. 1, 2016, a new Illinois law will require schools to provide training about the definitions of sexual assault and harassment.

“[Title IX] has expanded to cover gender equity for sexual assault, sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking—anything that would happen because of your gender that creates a hostile environment,” Pickering said.

Title IX has existed since 1972, but a letter in April 2011 from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), made it more of a priority for universities and ensured that they were following a more formalized procedure.

“Title IX is the state trying to make sure schools are following the same processes,” Pickering said. “Before Title IX, schools would still have a harassment policy. Title IX formalized a lot of things and put in process so that schools are not sweeping things under the rug. Students have a right to know who is accusing them, to have witnesses, and to make appeals.”

The OCR letter became published as a “significant guidance document” by the department.

 

Assistant Director of Human Resources Tom Ascher said that while schools had sexual assault and harassment policies before Title IX, this new emphasis on the law makes it so that universities will not fail to investigate cases that involve conflicts of interest—such as a report against a school’s star football player.

Title IX requires all faculty and staff as well as residential life to report all known cases of sexual assault and harassment. Because of confidentiality laws, counselors cannot report sexual assault and harassment cases without the victim’s consent or unless the victim is under 18. Because of Title IX’s amnesty clause, claimants who report will not be held responsible for any handbook violations that occurred during the time of the incident.

Because the Department of Education and Olivet wants no barriers to reporting in Title IX cases, those who report will not be punished if they were violating the handbook when they were assaulted or harassed “provided that any such violations did not/do not endangder the health or well-being of any other individual,” according to Olivet’s policies and procedures.

 

“If a girl came into my office and we did an investigation and thought that it was consensual, we don’t go to student development and turn that student in,” Pickering said.

Once Pickering receives a report of sexual assault or harassment, he meets separately with all the parties involved and asks what happened. If the story of the respondent (otherwise known as the accused or alleged perpetrator) matches that of the claimant (otherwise known as the accuser or alleged victim), then there will be no investigation and the respondent will be punished by the school. If the stories do not match, however, Pickering will inform the claimant about what an investigation would entail and if the claimant is willing to go forward with it.

Out of six trained Title IX investigators on campus, one or two of them will conduct the investigation. The investigators will interview the respondent, claimant, and witnesses, if any.

There is no manual for Title IX investigations, Ascher said. Instead, investigators go through training determined by the Title IX coordinator. Last year, investigators attended a two day seminar.

“Investigators are trained and know what avenues to take, what questions to ask, and how to listen,” Ascher said.

Pickering added: “In the investigation we investigate both parties as well as witnesses if there are any. It is not the same as a police investigation where a state attorney decides whether or not there will be charges pressed. In our investigation there is what we call a preponderance of the evidence.”

Title IX has a lower standard than the courts. If there is “51 percent” of reason to believe that the respondent did touch the claimant then investigators will side with the claimant.

“Unlike the courts, we do not make our decision without reasonable doubt. Title IX tends to lean more in the favor of the accuser,” Pickering said.

Pickering noted that often the respondent is not fully aware of what he or she may have done.

For example, a man and woman may be kissing, she may let him under her shirt, but if he penetrates her with his hand without her permission that can constitute as sexual assault.

Pickering also noted that the claimant tends to think that the incident was his or her fault.

“She might say ‘I let him kiss me and put his hands under my shirt,’ but if there was no permission given for intercourse then that’s sexual assault,” Pickering said.

Often Pickering asks the respondent whether or not he or she knew that they did not have consent and why they thought they did have consent.

Sexual assault can be a man harming a woman, a woman harming a man, a woman harming a woman, or a man harming a man. While several normally sexual gestures, like slapping someone’s butt, may be culturally interpreted as platonic between people of the same-sex, there should still be an awareness of whether or not the action is unwelcome or sexual in nature.

“There’s definitely more openness about homosexuality,” Pickering said. “Things that happened 20, 30 years ago that were not sexual today would be different. There is heightened awareness about sexual issues…that’s good, you want to address that, but it call also be bad because it can cause hyper-sensitivity to these issues.”

In cases in which a potential claimant is not sure whether or not he or she was assaulted, Pickering always errs on the side of doing an investigation.

“The schools wants to have a culture where sexual assault isn’t tolerated…and a culture in which we investigate those cases,” Pickering said.


Additional university requirements

The following are additional requirements for universities that will be enacted on Aug. 1, 2016 by the Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act, Public Act 099-0426:

  • Incorporate particular timeframes into their procedures for notifying parties of key stages of the proceedings;
  • Adopt a definition of consent that includes particular components;
  • have an option for students to report electronically, anonymously, and confidentially;
  • Provide a minimum number of hours of training to particular individuals involved in addressing or resolving issues of sexual violence;
  • Designate and train specific confidential advisors available to provide emergency and ongoing support to students;
  • Include an amnesty provision in the institution’s policy that provides immunity to any student who reports in good faith a policy violation from receiving any disciplinary sanctions that are revealed in the course of such a report; and
  • Include an appeal process that contains particular grounds for appeal as set forth in the Act.Source: Franczek Radelet, Attorneys & Counselors, www.Franczek.com

Nathan DiCamillo, Life and Culture Editor

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