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Reporting assault: New policy and open campus conversation encourage survivors to speak up

Since the passage of the revised sexual assault policy in August 2014, the UNC Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office has seen a 52 percent increase in formal investigations of sexual assault and a 156 percent increase in informal investigations from the 2013-2014 to the 2014-2015 academic years.

Becci Menghini, senior associate vice chancellor in the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office, attributes the increase in reporting to a greater communication of resources available for sexual assault survivors as well as a general trend of increased national attention on the subject.

“Quite frankly, we see (increased reporting) as a good thing because people know we have services and programs for them,” she said.

Menghini said it is difficult to compare the reporting numbers prior to the policy change to the numbers after the policy change due to the way the numbers are reported and the modification of the definitions of sexual assault.

Menghini said the new policy has expanded definitions of consent, harassment, sexual exploitation and sexual contact. She also said prior to 2013, sexual assault cases would have fallen under the student honor court, muddling the numbers.

The 2012 sexual assault policy was still in effect for nine days at the beginning of the 2014 school year and so is included in the data collected for the 2014-2015 school year.

Christi Hurt, assistant vice chancellor and chief of staff for student affairs, was the chairperson of the task force that revised the policy. She said she expected an increase in reporting because they created a policy that reflected students’ needs in a world with so much violence.

“I really think my first gut reaction, more than anything, is that we have created a more accessible system of care,” she said.

Hurt said they wanted to ensure that the student voice was embedded in the new policy, in addition to emphasizing prevention, gender neutrality and affirmative consent.

“We are looking at this from every angle... to make sure we are creating a safe environment for everyone,” she said.

Hurt also said the climate on campus surrounding sexual assault has changed a tremendous amount in the past couple years.

Allan Blattner, director of the Department of Housing and Residential Education, said he feels students are very open to talking about sexual assault, as well as a number of other issues, to his staff.

“I think because of this policy and I think just the way that our community in the residence halls has developed, there is a very open climate at this point to reporting,” Blattner said.

Resident advisors are mandatory reporters of sexual assault under federal law, Blattner said, which may deter some students from reporting. However, he said that usually becomes a secondary issue for students because they know resident advisors are a good resource for an initial contact.

“They care less about the mandatory reporting and more about the comfortable relationship with the RA,” Blattner said.

Under the new policy, the person reporting the assault decides whether to initiate a formal investigation. Formal investigations include interviews with witnesses and a determination of whether a policy violation has occurred as well as the appropriate distribution of sanctions and remedies.

Informal reports, which saw the most significant increase under the new policy, include only needed support and interim protective measures as requested by the reporting individual.

The new policy also created a new adjudication process in which students no longer sit on the hearing panel for formal investigations.

Allen O’Barr, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said since the implementation of the new policy, CAPS has not created any new services to aid survivors of sexual assault, but they have never had a lack of resources to extend treatment to these individuals.

O’Barr said he’s seen the greatest improvement in communication between campus departments.

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“There is a really tight relationship between us and the Title IX Office and women’s health,” he said.

O’Barr said the conversation on campus about sexual violence and consent has become much more active than it was five years ago, but he doesn’t know if it has decreased the number of assaults.

“I think we are providing good resources for people who have been assaulted,” he said. “What I would like to be able to do is provide whatever is needed for those people who are doing the assaulting.”

“I do think that more work needs to be done with the general population, so that this is not even an option that’s on the table.”