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Sexual misconduct reports increase at University of Michigan

The University of Michigan Union
Wikimedia Commons
University of Michigan student union

The second University of Michigan Student Sexual Misconduct Annual Report, released this morning, revealed that there's been an increase in the number of sexual assaults reported to internal campus investigators.

According to the annual report, from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 there have been 172 incidents of sexual misconduct reported to the university’s Office for Institutional Equity (OIE) compared to 129 incidents reported during the previous year.

The university’s annual report defined sexual misconduct as a phrase that “encompasses a wide variety of behavior, from making unwanted sexual comments to rape” and “depends greatly upon the circumstances surrounding the behavior.”

The University’s wide definition, however, did separate instances of sexual misconduct into specific subgroups. For example, instances of sexual misconduct were separated into reports of sexual assault, stalking, sexual harassment, retaliation, and an ambiguous “other” category.

Every subgroup, excluding the number of reported stalking incidents, increased from last year to the present.

In the reported incidents of sexual assault, the number of reported cases increased from 68 to 97. And in the reported incidents of sexual harassment, the number of reported cases increased from 35 to 43.

Of the 172 reported 2015 incidents, 78 were determined to be “not within the scope of the policy.” These 78 cases either involved behavior that, even if proven, were not considered instances of sexual misconduct under the University’s policy or were not considered because the reported behavior was committed by an individual not directly affiliated with the University.

In the cases that did not fall under the university’s definition of sexual misconduct, the matter is referred by the OIE to the appropriate office for follow-up. These cases are only referred if the underlying behavior to the incident is “inappropriate or is in violation with another university policy.”  

In the latter instance, when the incident involved an individual not affiliated with the university, the affected students were offered resources and support for their distress, and were encouraged to contact OIE if “any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature were to occur in the future.”

Of the other 94 sexual misconduct reports that “fell under the [University] Policy,” 66 were considered by the review panel.

The review panel consists of university faculty and staff who deal with reports that do not or cannot proceed to an official investigation. The panel intervenes when “the complainant declines to participate, requests confidentiality, and/or asks that the university not investigate the report.” In this way, 55 of the 66 cases considered by the review panel were defined as “closed.”

“When we issue a report of no violations, we’re not saying that it didn’t happen,” stated Anthony Walesby, the University Title IX coordinator and senior director of the OIE, in a statement to The Michigan Daily. “We’re saying that the evidence was insufficient in terms of knowing enough to say that there was a violation. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but the evidence doesn’t support that.”  

Of the 94 sexual misconduct reports that were considered by the university this year, only 29 led to an investigation. Whether or not an investigation occurs, according to the report, is situationally based on the complainant’s wishes as well as the available information in the case.

Ten of the 29 investigations were determined as being in violation of the university’s policy, and 17 were determined as not. The two remaining cases are pending as of Oct. 1, 2015.  

The report says it's believed that the increase in reported cases is a “reflection of extensive education effort and increased awareness of sexual misconduct matters, including what constitutes sexual misconduct and how to report concerns.”     

The U.S. Education Department has been investigating how the University of Michigan and dozens of schools nationwide address sexual abuse allegations.

– Amelia Zak, Michigan Radio Newsroom