University alters sexual assault policy
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 00:10
A university−wide Sexual Violence Working Group this summer revised the Sexual Misconduct Adjudication Process (SMAP) and created the Sexual Misconduct Policy, which replaces the university’s Sexual Assault Policy.
The new 17−page policy includes definitions for stalking and relationship violence, as well as for sexual harassment and assault, which were included in last year’s document.
Examples that illustrate each section in the Sexual Misconduct Policy now feature gender−neutral language that is not exclusive to heterosexual relationships, according to Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) Director Jill Zellmer.
“Our hope is that this policy helps clarify the prohibited conduct so students can better understand their rights and responsibilities,” Zellmer told the Daily in an email. “We also want to make sure that victims of this behavior know that they have rights and recourse available within the university.”
Demonstrating an increased awareness of technology’s role in sexual exploitation, the Sexual Misconduct Policy features anecdotes that elaborate on students’ rights regarding naked pictures and videos of themselves, particularly after a break−up, Zellmer said at an Oct. 17 Sexual Misconduct Policy Forum in Metcalf Lounge.
Zellmer, Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman and Judicial Affairs Officer Veronica Carter answered several students’ questions about policy and process changes at the forum, including a few concerns about the rights of the accused.
Carter explained that once a student files a report through SMAP, the accused receives a no−contact order to ensure that both are comfortable in classes, residential halls and dining halls. The revised process is designed to prevent retaliation or intimidation of the students once they begin the SMAP, Reitman said.
Starting this year, the SMAP now applies to all three Tufts campuses, Zellmer said. For the previous two years only the Medford/Somerville campus used this process.
“Our goals are: one, to make sure that victims/survivors of this conduct feel supported and know what resources are available to them within the university, and two, to do whatever we can to stop sexual misconduct within our community,” Zellmer said.
Under the revisions, a panel of three staff and faculty members chosen by the dean of each school will decide the outcome of SMAP cases, according to Zellmer. Last year, Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman unilaterally adjudicated these incidents for the Medford/Somerville campus.
“These changes ensure that the decision−making processes remain as neutral and impartial as possible,” Zellmer said.
Panelists must initially complete two three−hour training sessions before they can participate in the SMAP. To continue in the position, panelists also have to undergo annual training, according to Zellmer.
An April 2011 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights decision, which clarified that Title IX includes sexual misconduct such as harassment and stalking, prompted university officials to expand Tufts’ policy, Zellmer said.
“It is a misconception that Title IX is limited to athletics,” Zellmer said. “Title IX simply prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational programs, which may bar a victim’s access to educational opportunities or benefits.”
Under the new policy, students have so far reported 20 cases of sexual misconduct across Tufts’ three campuses. Last academic year, there were 38 cases overall, Zellmer said.
“Students who experienced sexual misconduct at Tufts prior to the implementation of this new policy can, at any time, report to OEO what happened to them,” she said. “Although we may not be able to investigate an older incident the same way that we might investigate a more recent one, there are still ways students can get help and support.”
Zellmer noted that the OEO plans to take a more hands−on approach towards educating members of the Tufts community about sexual misconduct.
“Our next goal is to do more to educate students, staff and faculty about this misconduct,” Zellmer said. “We are working towards securing the resources necessary to expand that education to everyone within the Tufts community.”