University plans faster, amended sexual assault follow-up process
In addition to creating a new University Sexual Assault Investigation Board to make the sexual assault investigation process Title IX-compliant, the new statutes would allow sexual assault victims and alleged assaulters separate interviews and keep students from bringing legal counsel to sexual assault hearings.
“This approach, I think, just makes things a little more comfortable if you are bringing a complaint, and also if you find yourself in the position of the respondent,” Sharon Stahl, vice chancellor for students, said. “My hope is that this process will not be as intimidating.”
Under the current statutes in the Washington University judicial code, sexual assault allegations are handled through the university judicial board, a body of up to twenty-five people. Both parties—the complainant and the respondent—are represented by a case coordinator, who is a faculty or staff member responsible for guiding students through the judicial board hearing.
However, arranging a meeting of the many people on the judicial board is often difficult, and the delay between report and hearing produces a lengthy, drawn-out process that is frustrating to all parties involved and in opposition to the Title IX requirement that sexual assault complaints be resolved within sixty days of report. Additionally, the case coordinator model creates a trial-like atmosphere intimidating to both complainants and respondents.
In the interest of expediting the process, a separate board is being formed to handle sexual assault allegations.
At a Student Union Senate meeting on Wednesday night, Sharon Stahl, vice chancellor for students, explained the structure and goals of the new sexual assault investigation board. The board will consist of just three members: one faculty member, one university administrator, and one student. Upon receiving a complaint, the university’s Title IX coordinator will appoint an investigator, who may or may not be a member of the university community.
The investigator will interview both the complainant and respondent, as well as any witnesses, and within fourteen days, will submit a report to the board, which may request additional details or investigation. A final report will be submitted, to which the complainant and respondent may respond in writing.
Over the following fourteen days, the board will then interview the complainant and respondent, and may interview additional parties such as witnesses or the investigator if they deem it necessary. Based on this information, the board will make a decision about whether it is “more likely than not” that the respondent violated the university’s judicial code with regards to sexual assault.
This decision will be made within sixty days of the complaint submission, in keeping with the Title IX requirements.
Stahl said the proposed new statutes aim to make the process less adversarial by regulating the advisors which complainants, respondents, or witnesses can have present. Under the current statutes, students can bring an individual with them to the hearings for support. In the past, many students have chosen in the past to bring legal counsel with them, though the judicial board hearing is technically separate from any legal action the complainant chooses to pursue.
Under the new statutes, students cannot bring lawyers or attorneys to meetings with the board to act as legal representation. Additionally, any advisor a student does bring cannot contact the board or the investigator while the complaint is pending.
Senators seemed to support the creation of the sexual assault investigation board, although they were not able to vote on the statutory changes that night.
“I definitely heard student complaints about the old system,” SU senator and junior Leigha Empson said. “People were saying [the judicial board process] was taking way too long…I’m optimistic that these changes will make the process way faster for people.”
CORE and SARAH also heard a presentation about the board’s formation, and their members were generally in favor of the changes.
“I think the new system is really beneficial because it might encourage people to report more than they have. The rates of reporting of sexual assault are so low at Wash. U., as well as at many other universities, so I think it’s a really good thing that [the process] is changing,” said Kate Cygan, a junior and member of CORE.
Cygan also commended the new process for not forcing the complainant and respondent to face one another directly.
“The [old] process…made the survivor and their aggressor sit in the same room, very close to each other through this really hard process, so it clearly wasn’t ideal.”
With additional reporting by Alex Leichenger.