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Student-to-student sexual misconduct procedure eases process

A sexual misconduct procedure enacted at the start of Ohio University's 2013-14 school year works to simplify the reporting, investigation and implementation of sanctions processes for student-on-student allegations.

The University's Sexual Misconduct Policy 03.004 sets guidelines for sexual misconduct involving students, faculty and staff, said Dianne Bouvier, Title IX coordinator and interim executive director for Institutional Equity.

The procedure, the Student Sexual Misconduct Resolution Process, falls under the general policy and reduces the length of time, and overall number of required meetings, making it more comfortable and streamlined.

Under the previous guidelines, both the Office of Institutional Equity and the Office of Community Standards executed two separate investigations, meaning the complainant, respondent and witnesses would have been required to navigate and participate in both, said Rebecca Lawrence, Title IX investigator.

Limiting the number of people directly involved to one representative from each office helps to keep cases, which deal with sensitive and personal information, more private, Bouvier said.

It also cuts back on the opportunity for complainants, witnesses and respondents to coordinate their stories or for the stories to change with multiple retellings, Lawrence added.

Under the new procedure, the complainant and respondent go through one process for both Community Standards and Institutional Equity; the process is completely merged, including the final decision on sanctions, or lack thereof.

Complaints can come directly from the victim or a third party such as faculty and staff members, who are obligated to report. When circumstances involving sexual misconduct, relationship violence or stalking are reported to Institutional Equity, the Office goes through a series of steps before determining whether or not there was a violation of policy. The first step is to determine whether the behavior described falls under the Sexual Misconduct policy.

For student-to-student cases, Institutional Equity and Community Standards and Student Responsibility coordinate any necessary interim measures while the investigation is under way, which may include: administrative directives for no contact, re-assignment of housing or coordinating plans to remove an individual from a class or having him or her make other arrangements with faculty to complete coursework.

Institutional Equity then conducts a preliminary investigation and if it determines that, on the face of the story, that there has been a violation under the policy, then it issues a notice of investigation, and the joint investigation process begins. During the investigation, both the complainant and the respondent will attend interviews with investigators. The two parties are never required to confront each other.

After conducting the interviews, the investigator team meets during a case conference, where they analyze what has been produced as a result on the investigation and come to a concensus on the finding. The team then draws up a preliminary report, which they then present to Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones. She reviews the suggested sanctions, in consultation with the Title IX Coordinator, and if she agrees, she signs off on the report. If neither party appeals, the sanctions will be put immediately into effect.

If either the complainant or the respondent appeals the finding, Vice President of Student Affairs Ryan Lombardi reviews the case, in consultation with the Title IX Coordinator, and determines whether to uphold, modify or reverse the decision.

"I think the way our process is now we send a really strong message that big or small, whatever the complaint is, we're going to take this seriously," Lawrence said. "We're going to send this message throughout the whole process."

Overall, both offices stress the importance of consent in the discussion of appropriate sexual behavior. The Sexual Misconduct policy specifies that consent cannot be given if someone is intoxicated, drugged, asleep, or otherwise unable to give agreement.

"We're not saying don't ever have friendships and don't ever let them develop into sexual friendships," Bouvier said. "But people should be consciously making this decision."

Connect here more information about the Student Sexual Misconduct Resolution Process.