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Feds crack down on campus sexual assault

BY ERIC MOORE | SEPTEMBER 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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The University of Iowa and most of the nation’s other colleges and universities will deal with instances of sexual assault differently this year.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a letter earlier this year detailing changes in the interpretation of Title IX, a law usually known for ensuring sex equality in athletics and academics.

The letter presents clarifications for the ways in which federally funded colleges and universities handle sexual-assault issues. The 19-page letter features details about sexual harassment, sexual battery, sexual coercion, and sexual assault.

The letter’s guidelines require schools to promptly begin steps against ongoing sexual violence, as well as to take interim steps before investigations are complete. It also recommends schools not wait for criminal investigation or proceedings to begin before starting their own investigation.

Throughout the school’s investigation, parties are required to be allowed equal opportunity to present relevant witnesses and evidence, according to the letter. In the school’s investigation, officials can mandate lawyers at their discretion. The letter also “strongly discourages” schools to allow the accused to question the accuser.

Karla Miller, the executive director of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, said the letter clarifies what is required of schools in instances of sexual misconduct.

“Title IX has always had these requirements, but they’ve been unclear in terms of what exactly schools had to do,” she said. “It’s a good thing in that it makes it very clear. It provides the blueprint that they need to follow in cases of sexual harassment.”

The specific actions listed in the letter will ultimately require universities to be more accountable, risking fines or a loss of federal funding if they don’t comply.

“In many ways, there is a new sheriff in town … It has the potential to really change campus climates if universities take it as the wake-up call it’s intended to be,” Lisa Maatz, the director of public policy for the American Association of University Women, told the Christian Science Monitor last week.

Monique DiCarlo, the UI sexual-misconduct response coordinator who also serves as the university’s Title IX delegate — said officials made changes to the school’s judicial procedures in compliance with the new Title IX clarifications.

When an issue of sexual misconduct arises, she said, the university is required to stop the initial problem, remedy the victim, and prevent future occurrences.

“While an investigation is going on, are there things we need to be doing? What do we need to do to remedy the student who’s been harassed or hurt? For instance, addressing her or his housing or academic need,” DiCarlo said. “We need to make sure we take action to prevent future harm from coming to other students.”

The letter cites statistics on sexual violence as part of the reason for the clarifications and distinctions made within it. It also aims to be a supplement to the Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance, which was also issued by the Office for Civil Rights in 2001.


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