We are in the red zone.
At the University of Iowa, as students, we are the most vulnerable to sexual assault. This is why the period is referred to as the “red zone,” as the majority of sexual assaults occur on campuses in the first few months of the fall semester. This is not much of a shock, as the time coincides with the back-to-school holidays and when freshmen are most vulnerable as they are unfamiliar with the campus and the reporting process.
Sadly, sexual assault and misconduct is a pervasive problem on college campuses, including at UI. In 2019, 521 incidents were reported to Title IX and the IU Gender Equity Office. Of these reports, 153 concerned sexual assault and 182 related to sexual harassment.
However, despite the prevalence of sexual assault, it is rarely reported. In fact, only 12 percent of sexual assault survivors report their assault nationally, and only 7 percent of disabled sexual assault survivors make the decision to report.
So why is it not being reported? Survivors cited several reasons, such as lack of evidence, fear of reprisal, or not knowing how to report. Those who wish to report on college campuses often face a complicated process that discourages them.
While members of our student body have called for an institutional change in the UI reporting process, the system is more complex than most people think. The problem and the irony lie in the idea that the reporting process itself is what sometimes keeps survivors away from reporting.
What is the UI reporting process?
At UI, the Title IX and Gender Equity Office is the primary base for reports of sexual misconduct and sexual assault when it comes to members or visitors of the University community. However, the office itself is not investigating the reports. The Student Accountability Office investigates complaints about student guarantors, and the Equal Opportunities Office investigates complaints about employee guarantors.
These are investigations to determine potential policy violations, not criminal investigations.
Although the Title IX and Gender Equity office receives hundreds of reports, the majority of them do not lead to an investigation. Of the 521 reports made in 2019, only 44 opened an investigation. Of the 44 investigations, 22 were found without a policy violation, 21 were found in a policy violation, and one was closed.
After receiving a report by the office, the Title IX Gender Unit meets with the complainant to decide whether they wish to file a formal complaint. The Title IX coordinator can also initiate the formal complaint, but the resolution process is optional for complainants and defendants. Once the formal complaint is initiated, an investigation is initiated and it can then fall into one of three processes: process A, process B or adaptive resolution.
In Process A, the investigation complies with Title IX regulations and includes a live hearing, with the complainant and the respondent. If it turns out that the defendant has committed a policy violation, it may result in their expulsion or suspension. Process B is adopted if the alleged behavior does not fall within Title IX’s definition of sexual harassment and regulations and would not result in suspension or expulsion. While other institutions like the criminal justice system can charge a person with sexual assault, processes A and B can only determine if a policy has been violated.
Finally, adaptive resolution is a voluntary process that addresses the harm rather than finding a policy violation. Both the complainant and the respondent must agree to participate in this process, and it ends once both parties agree to a resolution agreement.
Complications in the Title IX process and barriers
Not only is the reporting process complex, some of the guidelines and practices it contains often prevent victims from taking action.
Since Unemployment Insurance receives federal funding, the institution must follow Title IX guidelines, including when it comes to dealing with sexual assault and harassment.
Title IX has, in some ways, complicated the process and prevents victims from filing a complaint. The changes made by the Trump administration and former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are alarming to survivors as some regulations jeopardize the ability of victims to report harassment.
While the administration and DeVos have argued that these new guidelines are meant to protect all students – including those who are falsely accused – they are in fact not protecting survivors.
First, their decisions to release these changes are rooted in a problem that doesn’t really exist. In fact, only 2 to 8 percent of sexual assaults are falsely reported, which is a similar percentage for other crimes.
Under the new regulations, the bar has been raised for what is considered sexual harassment under Title IX. Previously, it was defined as “unwanted behavior of a sexual nature”. Now, new rules have set a higher standard and defined it as “unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would consider so serious, intrusive and objectively offensive that they deny someone access to the program or the educational activity of the school ”.
The problem with the change is that it basically says that a student couldn’t complain until they were kicked out of class or their academic process was disrupted. But he should not have to reach such high stakes before institutions can act.
Instead, universities should be allowed to prevent harassment from reaching that level in the first place.
The second concern is a change in the standard of proof. Although the UI uses the standard of preponderance, it raises concerns for survivors of other institutions who choose to follow the clear and compelling standard, as it sets a dangerous precedent for investigations.
In new directions, schools can use preponderance or clear and compelling standards. The clear and convincing standard is considered a “higher burden of proof” because the evidence must be considerably greater than a 50% probability to be true. In general, there is often minimal evidence when an assault occurs – such as eyewitnesses – as many assaults occur behind closed doors.
Under the new rules, schools must also require cross-examinations of parties in a Title IX case. At the UI, this occurs during the Live Process A hearing, where a representative or counsel for the Respondent can cross-examine the Complainant.
This can directly drive survivors away, as the new policy forces them to speak out about their own trauma, but not on their own.
Research has also shown that cross-examinations can re-traumatize survivors and prevent others from reporting their assault. It has also proven to be a poor tool for judging accuracy in cases of sexual violence.
It is irresponsible to force universities like UI to demand this policy, especially with previous guidelines discouraging such a practice, as it could potentially worsen a hostile environment.
The investigation, in general, is a long process. On average, an investigation lasts 154 calendar days, according to a 2019 report. Several factors affect the length of the investigation and understandably so, such as having to interview multiple witnesses and whether legal representation is involved.
But knowing that the investigation is a long and drawn out process doesn’t necessarily appeal to survivors, as it forces them to eventually relive their trauma. This could prevent them from moving forward in the healing process for months.
We should not live in a world where survivors feel they cannot depend on those in power to protect them from sexual violence. If we have a reporting process that keeps survivors away instead of helping them, then universities are setting a dangerous precedent for future cases, which only hurts survivors in the process.
Columns reflect the views of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.