Victims of sexual assault who file complaints with the university are currently not allowed to appeal the decision made in a misconduct hearing, while the accused retains the ability to lodge an appeal.
But as universities across the country are reviewing their policies to fall in line with new federal regulations, the University of Wisconsin is looking to give victims that right.
As UW works to meet federal and state requirements, the Dean of Students Office has proposed nine new procedures which would regulate investigations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating/domestic violence and stalking to mandate an equitable process for victims, Carmen Hotvedt, violence prevention specialist and project director at University Health Services, said.
These procedures would be added to Chapter 17, which is the UW administrative code on managing non-academic misconduct, Hotvedt said. It outlines the process the campus would use to investigate any student misconduct and makes sure student rights are protected.
Non-academic misconduct refers to a wide range of behaviors. While current procedures may work well for scenarios dealing with arson or vandalism, Hotvedt said they fall short in the sector that deals with sexual assault where both a complainant and respondent are involved.
Currently, Hotvedt said Chapter 17 outlines the rights of the accused in a sexual assault case to appeal, but there is no process or set of rights outlined for the victim to appeal.
“They have the rights to equitable process but our state code doesn’t allow for it,” Hotvedt said. “It is federally mandated but our outlining of how student conduct is investigated doesn’t match up.”
The 2014 UW Annual Security and Fire Safety Report documented 34 reported cases of sexual assault on campus under federal law standards and a total of 122 reported cases by state law standards in 2012.
Campus officials file sexual assault cases under the Clery Act, which gives sexual assault and rape specific definitions and specifies that only assaults committed on campus fall under this legislation, Bryan Bain, assistant dean of students, said.
However, when an assault occurs off-campus it can be reported under state law, but not federal, which is why the discrepancies in procedural practices exist, Bain said.
The new policies proposed by the Dean of Students Office aim to bridge the gap between state and federal law in order to comply with Sexual Violence Elimination, or the SaVE Act, Hotvedt said.
The SaVE Act is federal legislation that requires universities to increase transparency of sexual assault cases, enhance victim rights, provide standards of conduct proceedings and provide prevention educational programming by October 2014, according to the Clery Center for Security on Campus.
This is why shared governance committees at UW have worked to adjust the appeal process, Bain said.
Currently, the respondent has the right to choose between a hearing committee and a singular faculty member to sit in on the hearing, but the new policies would require a hearing committee comprised of a faculty member and a student to be present, Hotvedt said.
“We need to balance all of these things, but ultimately the goal is to make sure we’re there to support the survivor, hold the committer accountable and have an impartial process to handle these cases at the campus level,” Bain said.
The new policy intends to make the hearing process as transparent and equitable for both the complaint and respondent, Hotvedt said.
Bain said it will allow for both parties to engage in processes of the investigation, be informed of outcome and promptly participate in hearing and be able to ask for review of decisions by another party along the way.
Bain said additional documentation was added to the Clery Act a little more than a week ago, and they are now waiting to receive finalized guidelines from federal legislators.
“The ultimate goal here is to make sure we have a supportive and safe environment for our students, faculty and staff and part of that process is how we respond to student misconduct,” Bain said.
Aliya Iftikhar and Rachael Lallensack contributed to this article.