The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday September 26th

Sexual harassment policy eases burden of proof

A lighter burden of proof could lead to a crackdown on sexual harassment cases at UNC.

The University’s new policy on harassment and sexual misconduct, implemented Aug. 1, changes the burden of proof students need to prove their case from beyond a reasonable doubt to a preponderance of evidence.

“Preponderance of evidence is a civil standard used to try civil cases,” said Jonathan Sauls, dean of students.

The new standard must prove that the event “more likely than not” occurred, Sauls said.

Amanda Claire Grayson, attorney general of the Honor Court, said the change will encourage more students who have been victims of sexual misconduct to come forward and report their cases.

“One of the major reasons the burden of proof and the process in the policy changed is because a small minority of cases of sexual misconduct are actually reported,” Grayson said.

Grayson said the change in the burden of proof will also make it more likely that students are found guilty of violations, since complainants need less evidence to prove their case.

The sexual misconduct policy also clarifies the definition of consent as whether a sober, reasonable person would have known that the complainant was incapacitated — another standard used in civil cases.

The Student Grievance Committee will employ the standard in its hearings, Saul said.

“I believe what the policy does is shift away from a subjective definition to an objective definition,” Sauls said.

“It avoids the opportunity for a respondent to show up and say, ‘This is what I thought happened,’” he said. “They can’t play the ‘I was drunk’ card.”

Jan Boxill, chairwoman of the faculty executive committee, said the changes will make the process more efficient.

“It will require some careful judgements,” she said. “It’s difficult for anyone to come to a conclusion because you come down to ‘he said, she said’,” Boxill said. “It what’s best for our students.”

Finally, complainants will be working with a new, more formal system.

The new policy shifted jurisdiction from the Honor Court to the University’s Equal Opportunity Office to process complaints.

Changes were made to the policy in response to the “Dear Colleague” letter published by the U.S. Department of Education in April 2011, which mandated reforms for federally funded campuses.

“The initial investigation is done by the equal opportunities office,” Sauls said.

After the investigation, students can choose to either meet with Sauls or request a formal hearing with the Student Grievance Committee.

Sauls said if either party does not agree with the sanction, they can appeal to Chancellor Holden Thorp, the Board of Trustees and, finally, the Board of Governors.

“We are empowering the complainant to be in control of how the case will move forward,” he said.

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