Protecting Child Safety at All Levels of Society

Sexual Assault on College Campuses/UNC Title IX Task Force lesson 2: Treat all parties with due process, fairness and respect #UNCIX

There has been a media firestorm about campus sexual assault with Rolling Stone’s story “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” eliciting a great reaction, then questions arising about Rolling Stone’s journalistic practices. Today The Diane Rehm Show spent an hour on the discussion of the fallout, spurring me to write more about my experiences on the UNC Title IX Task Force that reshaped the university’s response to sexual assault. I an responding with a series of brief blog posts on this topic, in reaction to issues raised on The Diane Rehm Show, by Harvard Law’s Diane Rosenfeld and Slate.com’s Emily Yoffe; in an editorial by Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld, and others.

The website presenting the University of North Carolina’s new sexual assault response policy, and resources, is Safe@UNC.edu

I strongly support the policy we crafted and process we went through at the University of North Carolina, and I believe that it can serve as a positive model for other campuses across the country. Make no mistake, this effort was born out of controversy, pain, and the need to change, but in the end we crafted a new policy with a lot of integrity. I am frustrated when I hear examples of campus response policies held up that I would also agree are poor practice, but then are used to tarnish the whole idea of college reform. We must do better than this and we should keep trying. We have handled assault poorly for more than 200 years, and we have been working to make it better for several decades, but the issue is just now getting traction at the highest levels of our society–university policy and the White House. Now is the time to keep moving forward and working on this issue.

Key learning #2: Treat all parties with due process, fairness and respect.

At UNC we came to a clear understanding that the whole process could be improved if we paid a lot of attention to treating all people involved with due process, fairness, respect, and as much kindness as possible. In the disciplinary proceedings, we kept in mind due process on both sides–the whole system will not work if it is not fair. On the disciplinary side, the university does have to be as fair and impartial as possible. It is true that the university cannot be an advocate for one side or the other, which means there may need for other advocate resources elsewhere, such as the legal fund for survivors being raised by UVa alumni. By state law in North Carolina, lawyers are allowed to participate in the disciplinary process.

But we also discussed kindness, starting with the need for people who talk to students who are reporting sexual assault to understand the issue, and not asking victim-blaming, uninformed, stereotypical questions. Cringe-worthy, insensitive comments in the past by UNC administrators were one problem cited in student complaints against the university.

In the new policy and website (a key means of communication), we made sure to consider all the avenues that offer support, creating a resource list that includes confidential resources, as well as avenues to file a complaint with the university. This allows survivors to retain control as much as possible, and decide how to proceed. We would love for people to feel comfortable reporting to the police, but understand that whether or not a student chooses that route, the university needs to do its job protecting the civil rights of students and providing a school environment free of gender-based violence, harassment, and discrimination.

In addition to the formal grievance procedure, we talked about the crucial need to provide not only confidential, culturally-appropriate support options (such at the LGBTQ Center, Office of Diversity of Multicultural Affairs, and more) but the need to provide more robust interim measures. If a student needs to drop/retake a class, get a deadline extended on class work, change dorm rooms, or request a no-contact order, the Office of the Dean of Students makes it clear that “these measures are available regardless of whether a student reports their experience to law enforcement or seeks to pursue any additional action.”

So when Emily Yoffe brings up as an example of what she calls “The College Rape Overcorrection” the case of University of Michigan student Drew Sterrett, who Yoffe reports was expelled without due process (based on a Skype interview, not a formal hearing to investigate a sexual encounter he says was clearly consensual) I would say to that, that sounds like a case of a poor process and one that needs to be fixed–one more reason to keep reforming the system, not a reason to stop.

DoingRightByOurKids.com co-creator Amy Tiemann, Ph.D. was a member of the University of North Carolina’s 22-person “Title IX Task Force” that spent more than a year working on suggested changes to the way that UNC handles complaints of sexual assault complaints among students. Tiemann was appointed to this Task Force by then-Chancellor Holden Thorp, as a representative of the larger Chapel Hill community, where she has lived for 14 years. This is the second in a series of posts about what she learned by being part of this process. #UNCIX

Schedule an interview: Dr. Amy Tiemann is a frequent guest expert discussing parenting, child safety, and abuse prevention. Dr. Tiemann’s combination of perspectives and roles as a scientist, educator, author and parent gives her a unique ability to make an impact on individuals, families, and cultural standards and to create positive social change. To schedule an interview, please contact her publicist Jill Dykes, jill@jilldykespr.com or 919-749-8488

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