UW System in the middle of large discussion of sexual assault

Policy changes highlight national issue

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Story by Glen Olson, Chief Copy Editor

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UW-Eau Claire officials are working to manage twin changes in how campus sexual assaults are recorded and reported after revised state and UW System mandates.

Primarily, this initiative would change how UW System schools report sexual assault numbers to the state.

Gov. Scott Walker proposed eliminating the requirement in his February budget proposal as a way to save money and reduce redundancies, as the federal government already requires similar reports from universities.

This move was interpreted by some advocate groups as a way of eliminating sexual assault reporting requirements entirely, with stories to that effect appearing on Jezebel.com and the Daily Beast, though the latter has been taken down and Jezebel ran a lengthy retraction.

UW-Eau Claire Dean of Students Joseph Abhold said state sexual assault reporting requirements were unclear compared to federal mandates.

Abhold said that means some universities reported incidents over spring and summer break, and after students told campus counseling centers about assaults that had occurred years before.

With all that confusion, he said better guidelines will improve the system and provide more useful information to understand sexual assault on campus.

“It was a poorly written law to begin with,” Abhold said. “So clearing that up, having a better, more uniform report across the UW System will actually be better.”

New changes will also aid data interpretation.

Abhold said because sexual assaults are usually underreported, it is hard to know whether universities with higher numbers have better programs and services, or because they lack education and programming.

He said uniform group reporting would help universities collect more reliable information.

The second change, which appeared before Student Senate at their March 17 meeting, is a resolution supporting a change in Chapter 17 of the UW System’s statutes dealing with sexual assaults and processes for disciplinary action.

The resolution, which passed unanimously after Abhold spoke to Senate, dealt primarily with due process rights of complainants and the respondents, and making those the same for both parties.

Abhold said changing these statutes affects more than just UW System administrators because Wisconsin is one of the only states to put procedures into state law.

So when the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 made Federal law more stringent than Wisconsin’s, administrators had to decide which to follow.

The changes include the adding domestic violence, dating violence and stalking to incidents that are reported to the Clery Act, changes in disciplinary procedures and changes in how visibly and aggressively the university educates its students on sexual assault.

Procedural changes include:

— Allowing the complainant a right to appeal an administrative decision
— Barring a faculty and student panel from deciding cases
— Changing the standard for evidence from “clear and convincing” to a “preponderance of evidence.”

Abhold said the decision to review all cases by a hearing examiner rather than a panel of staff, faculty and students was primarily to protect the privacy of both parties.

“Facing a panel, whether you’re the accused or the complainant, I think is a pretty challenging thing,” Abhold said. “It seems like it’s unnecessarily intimidating.”

Student Body President Sam Fish said Student Senate was excited about the changes, and voted to support them unanimously.

“All the discussion on it was very positive” Fish said. “This isn’t reinventing the wheel as far as these policies are concerned, it’s just making sure they fall in line with what are now national standards.”

The language changes have been circulating the UW System administrations for feedback, but both language and reporting changes will meander through the state legislature before approval.

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