Prohibit submission of "character statements" in determining responsibility for Title IX violations.
Our goal was to ensure that evidence of a perpetrator's "good character" didn't influence the outcome of sexual misconduct investigations and hearings. As of Fall 2018, character witness statements will only be presented to the Board after an accused student is found "responsible" for a policy violation. In other words- character statements will only be used in sanctioning, not in determining responsibility for an act of sexual violence. We see this as an important step towards shifting the narrative that sexual assault can only be committed by one "type" of person. This is also an important change for survivors, as victims will no longer have to go through the re-traumatizing process of hearing character defenses for their attackers.
Current Policy Change Focus
Clearly explain and condemn “sexual coercion” within the university's definition of “consent.”
We are currently working with OSARP, Title IX, and Student Affairs to advocate for the expansion of the university’s definition of “consent.” The current definition states that consent cannot be gained by coercion, but lacks a comprehensive explanation of what constitutes sexual coercion. Our current proposal states: “Consent cannot be gained by physical, verbal, or power-based coercion, whereas any behavior intended to manipulate, incapacitate, or fatigue the reporting party with the intention of facilitating sexual contact constitutes sexual coercion.” Sexual coercion is an extremely common tool that perpetrators use on college campuses, and survivors of assault, harassment, and exploitation involving coercion deserve policies that reflect their experiences and provide an avenue to healing.
Other Proposals for Change
Do not let students found responsible in sexual assault cases return to campus while the reporting party is still enrolled, employed, or otherwise affiliated.
In the past four academic years, the Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices (OSARP) has adjudicated 36 sexual misconduct cases. Only 18 accused students were given the verdict of "responsible," and out of those, only 3 were expelled. It is unclear what type of sexual misconduct each case was for, but there are confirmed cases in which students found responsible for penetrative rape were invited onto campus after brief suspensions. 90% of rapists are repeat offenders. Allowing assaulters to remain on campus is a public safety threat. We believe that the only appropriate sanction for rape is significant suspension expulsion, and survivors certainly shouldn’t have to face their assailants on the way to class.
Enforce time limits on sexual misconduct investigations.
The OSARP Sexual Misconduct Accountability Process guidelines state: "Typically, the Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices schedules the Sexual Misconduct Case Review to occur within thirty days of the Accused Student being notified of the charge. However, the circumstances surrounding the case may make it necessary for the university to shorten or extend that timeline." Due to the vague discretionary clause included in this policy, investigations are typically extended and drag on for months, causing survivors to relive their trauma for an extended period of time with their lives on hold. While we see the importance of handling these cases with patience and care, we recognize the need for increased efficiency, even if it means investing in hiring more Title IX/OSARP personnel. OSARP should enforce the time requirements that already exist and only extend deadlines in very serious circumstances, after reviewing documentation. Additionally, all parties should be fully informed of the reasoning behind deadline extension.
Bring in trained professionals with relevant backgrounds to hear sexual misconduct cases.
Currently, any university staff/faculty member who hears a certain amount of non-Title IX OSARP cases and completes an additional training can serve on the Board that adjudicates these sensitive, life-altering cases. We believe that sexual misconduct charges should be handled by individuals with professional backgrounds in relevant fields such as psychology specializing in trauma or criminal/civil law, who also complete the additional training for hearing Title IX cases in OSARP. Decisions must be made by qualified, trauma-informed individuals who fully understand what constitutes sexual misconduct and how such violations impact survivors and their communities. There is no amount of training that could make university staff as equipped to hear these cases as a mix of attorneys and experts on sexual violence.
Continue providing all Title IX protective measures regardless of OSARP decision.
Under the current system, students whose attackers are not held responsible by the Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices lose access to some protective measures, such as No Contact Orders. Statistics tell us that only 2-8% of reports of rape are unfounded or false, however around 50% of OSARP Sexual Misconduct cases result in a "not responsible" verdict. This leaves a large percentage of victims without necessary accommodations and can discourage students from pursuing charges, because the chance of pursuing charges and losing accommodations exists. Since Title IX and OSARP are two separate offices with separate functions, the availability of Title IX accommodations should be unaffected by OSARP decisions. We believe that No Contact Orders must stand after a case is finalized unless both parties formally sign off that the Order can be removed.
Increase access to records for reporters of sexual violence.
The Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices denies survivors access to important records including tapes and transcripts from their Case Review. Under FERPA, OSARP is required to allow students to listen to their tapes in a private room, but does not allow and records to be removed or notes to be taken. This can be a detrimental roadblock for victims who may seek disability services, legal aid, action by the Office of Civil Rights, or other restitution after experiencing an instance of sexual violence and reporting to the university. Transcripts with appropriate redactions should be made for all case reviews and provided to the parties upon request.
Proposals for Other Groups and Departments
Athletics: Adopt a “Serious Misconduct” rule for players.
In 2017, a football player was reported for attempted sexual assault. He remained on the team for two years while the case played out in courts and was ultimately suspended for only three games after a “no contest” plea for the misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment. This inaction is dismissive and dangerous. We believe that any James Madison University athlete who engages in violent behavior should face removal from the team if they are found “responsible” for conduct involving sexual assault, intimate partner violence, or serious physical assault in a university investigation, or if they are guilty or enter a guilty/no contest plea by the legal system. For more information, we recommend looking into the Big Sky Conference’s serious player misconduct rule as well at the Set the Expectation program by survivor and advocate Brenda Tracy.