Improved, comprehensive policy addresses sexual violence

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has adopted a more comprehensive policy on sexual violence.

The policy, which took effect for reports filed on or after Aug. 28 and applies to all students and employees, also covers discrimination, harassment and related misconduct, interpersonal violence and stalking. It clearly lays out the types of conduct prohibited by the University and offers clarity on key terms such as “consent.” The policy also creates a more easily navigable adjudication process designed for fairness and balance.

“The adoption of this policy is a vital step in taking a wide-ranging approach to ensuring a safe and welcoming campus,” Chancellor Carol L. Folt said in announcing the adoption of the revised policy to the campus community.

Carolina’s policy was developed through an inclusive, collaborative process based on extensive campus-wide feedback. In 2013, a 22-member task force – consisting of students, faculty, staff and a community member – was charged with reviewing and improving institutional processes and developing recommendations.

The task force’s work builds on input from the Carolina community, recommendations from a prior student task force and significant feedback collected from hundreds of interviews conducted during a University-commissioned listening tour.

“The task force thoughtfully examined every aspect of our institutional processes, from reporting, support and response, to investigation, adjudication and appeals,” Folt said in her Aug. 28 email message. “Even as the policy was being developed, campus groups were working together to significantly improve processes and streamline coordination.”

She thanked the task force members for the quality of their recommendations, particularly in light of rapidly changing federal guidelines. “They delved into a complex issue and conducted their work in a positive, constructive manner with respect and honesty throughout the process,” she said.

The streamlined policy addresses four key areas:

  • Clearly identified support and resource options. The policy makes it easier for the campus community to access confidential support and additional resources for both the reporting and responding parties.
  • More precise scope of prohibited conduct. The policy distinguishes among the forms of prohibited conduct: discrimination; harassment; sexual violence; sexual exploitation; interpersonal (relationship) violence; stalking; complicity for knowingly assisting in an act that violates the policy; and retaliation.
  • Comprehensive definitions of key terminology. The policy contains more comprehensive definitions for terms such as “consent” to sexual contact and adds a definition for “incapacitation” where alcohol or drug use is involved.
  • Fair and balanced adjudication and resolution process. The revised process offers a supportive environment for both reporting and responding parties and increases overall efficiency in the investigative process. It will leverage the expertise of well-trained personnel; students will not serve in an adjudicating role.

The policy focuses on revised procedures for the investigation and resolution of reports involving students as the responding party, which Folt said was a critical component of the University’s commitment to student well-being.

The policy and procedures comply with federal regulations – including the Dear Colleague Letter issued in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Section 304 of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, and Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence issued in April by OCR. The policy and procedures also are consistent with the recommendations of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and the system-wide UNC Campus Security Initiative.

This policy does not yet address the procedures for when a faculty or staff member is the responding party, but the University will review those procedures and will carefully develop those guidelines, Folt said.

The process leading to the development of the improved policy began more than a year ago.

In February 2013, the University engaged Gina Maisto Smith, a former prosecutor, educator and national expert on campus sexual misconduct, to obtain feedback from the Carolina community about sexual misconduct and how reports of such prohibited conduct were addressed.

“The way the Carolina community came together to develop this policy is remarkable,” Smith said. “The task force carefully crafted the policy to address issues voiced during conversations with hundreds of community members. The result is an improved policy that signifies the University’s continuing commitment to addressing and eliminating sexual violence.”

A new website (http://sexualassaultanddiscriminationpolicy.unc.edu) has been developed to help the campus community understand the policy.

An online training program was piloted during the summer. Beginning in September, the University will provide training sessions about the policy and reporting responsibilities of people who are required to report incidents that are potential violations, and information about that training will be distributed to faculty, staff and students. In-person training for groups within the campus community also will be available, Folt said.

The University will form an advisory committee of faculty, staff, students and the community to review the implementation of the policy and to provide further recommendations, she said.

“We are not done – we will continue to identify ways to provide a safe place to learn and work,” Folt said.

By Patty Courtright, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Published August 29, 2014