CSG hosts panel discussing University sexual misconduct policy
At the “Empowering Survivors: A Forum on Sexual Misconduct Policy” panel Wednesday night about 100 students gathered at the Ford School to discuss the new sexual misconduct policy at the University of Michigan.
The panel was held by Central Student Government and guests from the Office for Institutional Equity, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, the department of sociology and Kroll Experts, a risk management team.
During the event, the panelists outlined the new policy and answered audience questions regarding the Sixth Circuit Court ruling, recent Department of Education Title IX regulation changes and campus issues relating to sexual misconduct and survivor empowerment.
CSG Vice President Isabel Baer, an LSA junior, highlighted the findings from the campus climate survey on sexual misconduct, which found 11.4 percent of students, 22.5 percent of undergraduate females and 6.8 percent of undergraduate males were survivors of sexual assault at the University.
The forum began with the discussion of the decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals last September, which nullified the University of Michigan's sexual assault investigation model. The decision stated universities must give the accused student or their agent the opportunity to cross-examine the accuser.
Panelists Julieanne Himelstein, associate managing director in Kroll Experts’ New York Office and Nicole Lamb-Hale, managing director in the Business Intelligence and Investigations practice of Kroll based in Washington D.C., addressed key issues in sexual misconduct policy. Himelstein explained the sheer difficulty of cases in which there are issues of credibility and competing narratives, as well as the trauma sexual assault survivors must experience.
“I prosecuted, for example, a child molestation case that had to do with a 7-year-old who was brutally raped by a family member, who literally when she was on the stand, curled up in a fetal position and refused to even utter her name because she was so traumatized.” Himelstein said.
Himelstein also addressed the struggles of sexual assault victims in coming forward and voicing their experiences.
“When a woman or a man is sexually assaulted, the idea of telling anyone — let’s not even talk about the police, let’s not talk about a Title IX coordinator, but telling a roommate, telling a best friend, telling somebody who’s trusted and close to that person — is just inconceivable,” Himelstein said.
Himelstein expressed her disdain for alcohol and drugs. She said they can act as catalysts, referring to them as a “toxic mix” that can ruin lives for early adults.
Lamb-Hale and Himelstein both emphasized the importance of educating others on the meaning of consent. Lamb-Hale highlighted the severity of the consequences sexual assault incidents can impose on those involved.
“The root of all evil in this is alcohol usually, in the college campus context,” Lamb-Hale said. “It’s something that we just have to accept and control for, because lives are ruined behind these things.”
She pointed out the possible consequences when such incidents occur, including permanent trauma, suspension and possible jail time.
Lamb-Hale also stressed the complexity concerning the definition of consent and the other extraneous variables that go into it — such as incapacitation, misuse of authority, body language, silence, passivity, unawareness and coercion.
LSA sophomore Jack Eichner agreed with the panelists, and after the talk he told The Daily about the importance of consent within his personal experiences as a fraternity member of Delta Sigma Phi.
“We just don’t take girls home from fraternity parties because the possible benefits of one night are not worth the possible issues that could arise with them,” Eichner said. “There are certainly cases in which it’s very clear that consent is not given. A lot of times its ambiguous, and it’s best to stay as far away from something as ambiguous as that as possible.”
Elizabeth Seney, assistant director of the Office for Institutional Equity, spoke about the positive impact of students reporting their concerns regarding sexual misconduct to OIE, and the resources available for students when reporting an incident of sexual misconduct.
Seney cited the finding of the 2015 Campus Climate survey, which discovered that only 3.6 percent of students who had experienced the described behaviors in the survey reported the incident to an official University resource.
“We want people to be able to have control over their own sort of experiences and information and what happens with that, but we also can’t address if we don’t know that they’re happening.” Seney said.
Following the panel, Rackham student Kamaria Porter gave a presentation showcasing the implications of new Title IX regulations.
The proposed regulations state off-campus events cannot be investigated, and only “severe, pervasive, and effectively deny access to education” can be reported and investigated. The effectiveness of such regulations was questioned by Porter, as she cited from the 2015 Campus Climate survey most sexual misconduct incidents occur off-campus.
“This could have a dramatic, chilling effect on survivors coming forward,” Porter said.
Porter said she saw a dramatic drop in reports investigated in the last year, due to the claimant not wanting to pursue a University process investigation, or the incident not falling within the scope of the University policy.
Porter also cited the Campus Climate Survey’s findings that only 28 percent of students who experienced stalking reported to any formal reporting body, and only 25 percent of students who experience severe incidents such as rape reported the incident.
Porter emphasized the new proposed requirements for cross-examination, which demand that the accused student and the accuser directly question one another in a live setting through an advisor such as an advocate or lawyer. This raised questions about the potentially harmful circumstances for those involved, creating possibilities for re-traumatization.