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Sexual assault task force postpones voting

UNC-Chapel Hill’s sexual assault task force further clarified potential changes to its system of investigating sexual assault reports Wednesday but postponed voting to adopt them until it reconvenes in November.

The task force continued the discussion it had during its Oct. 14 meeting about the the role of the Title IX investigator in determining whether a violation actually took place — which it currently does not.

The University’s investigator in the Equal Opportunity/Americans with Disabilities Act Office currently hears a student’s report and decides whether a violation of the policy could have occurred, but does not rule on the validity of the report.

The task force is considering expanding the investigator’s role to making a “preliminary finding” — determining whether the investigator believes a violation has actually taken place. At that point, the University would contact any students they believe to be involved in the assault and give them a chance to respond before pursuing sanctions, if the reporting student wishes.

The meeting lasted two hours, and the task force decided it would further hash out the language of a new potential policy before officially voting to adopt it.

Interim Title IX Coordinator Christi Hurt said the long discussion over the issue has been valuable.

“Even though this feels like quicksand, it’s important quicksand,” she said.

Student Body President Christy Lambden, who called for a vote an hour and a half into the meeting, said he didn’t think the group needed further debate.

“I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere by rehashing the same arguments,” he said.

Hurt asked the group to hold a temperature check to gauge how many members would vote to expand the investigator’s role, and more than half of the members raised their hands.

As part of the potential expansion of the role of the Title IX Investigator, the task force also considered adding staff to the Equal Opportunity/ADA Office to make the preliminary finding as a team.

Some members of the task force were worried it would be difficult to get funding from the University for extra staff.

But Sandra Martin, associate chair for research in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, said that shouldn’t be an issue.

“I think we shouldn’t be concerned about resources because the University has made a commitment,” she said.

Some members of the task force were concerned with the same person or team both investigating and then evaluating the report.

George Hare, deputy director for UNC’s Department of Public Safety, said in other cases the jobs are done separately.

“No investigator ever determines the guilt of a person,” he said. “It’s a conflict of interest.”

Gina Smith, a nationally known sexual assault expert, said the current system sometimes leaves students in the dark as to how the University’s decisions are made.

She said it would be better to show all involved parties the results of a preliminary finding before a full investigation takes place.

“The biggest complaint is it’s not transparent. What were they thinking? How did they come to that conclusion?”

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