New sexual assault policy implemented

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Clare Myers, Staff Writer

 

 

After last year’s push to raise awareness of sexual assault on campus, the University of Dallas has changed its policy on personal and sexual violence.

The new policy clarifies the definition of consent and sets new guidelines for reporting incidents.

The policy outlined in the student handbook now states, “A clear, verbal ‘yes’ is necessary evidence of consent.”

According to Dr. John Plotts, vice president for enrollment and student affairs, developing an unambiguous definition was a key concern for the committee of faculty and staff that drafted the new policy.

“I think the previous version was very abbreviated and this is expanded,” Plotts said.

He added that the definitions of other terms used in the policy, such as “domestic violence” and “stalking,” have been updated as well.

The process of reporting incidents has also been more explicitly laid out. Under the new guidelines, if a student reports an incident of personal or sexual violence to a faculty member or another “responsible employee” of the university, such as a coach or a CSO officer, that employee must report it. This also applies if a student reports on behalf of a friend.

Plotts acknowledges that this could create difficulty in investigating the report, but says the expanded policy will make it easier for students to speak up.

Karin Rilley, UD’s new general counsel, says that anecdotal evidence suggests an encouraging pattern in schools across the country that have adopted the guidelines that UD has implemented.

“I suspect that there will be an increase [in reports of incidents,]” Rilley said.

Senior Cosette Kulda, a member of the Sexual Assault Awareness Committee formed last year to raise awareness and gather input with regards to an updated policy, said she was glad to hear of the changes.

“It was definitely necessary that we changed our sexual assault policy,” she said, adding that the changes are what she expected after spending last semester getting students talking about an issue that had long been taboo at UD.

“People were asking why we were talking about sexual assault. They were saying, ‘It doesn’t happen here,’” Kulda said.

She noted that the new policy does not include the controversial “one drink rule,” which would have stated that someone who has had just one sip of alcohol is not able to give valid consent. The rule was hotly debated at last semester’s info sessions.

According to the new policy, someone who is “incapacitated” by drugs or alcohol cannot give consent. “Incapacitation” is defined as “a state beyond drunkenness or intoxication.”

The judicial process has been changed to line up with new federally mandated regulations. The standard of evidence that will now be used in investigations of sexual assault is the preponderance of evidence.

“If it’s 51% more likely that an assault occurred, then the person is guilty of sexual assault,” Plotts said. “So it is a lower standard of guilt than ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’”

UD has been working to improve its policy in response to an incident of assault on campus reported in the spring of 2013 and as part of a national movement to combat sexual assault on college campuses.

The committee that wrote the new policy was made up of faculty and staff, including Plotts, Rilley and Dore Madere, the director of student life. No students were part of that committee, but Plotts says student opinions gathered by the Sexual Assault Awareness Committee were taken into account.

“They influenced the definition of consent through their deliberations that were communicated with Dore,” he said.

The 2013 Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act requires college campuses to meet certain standards, including implementing educational programs and establishing procedures for handling cases involving sexual violence.

Kulda says raising awareness of sexual violence is a crucial step to preventing the crime. According to Plotts, UD administration is developing a comprehensive online program to educate students about sexual assault. It would be similar to the Alcohol Education course that new students are currently required to take.

Plotts said that the sexual violence education program would be mandatory for all students, and he hopes it will be ready in the spring.

“We do hope that [these changes] make a more safe campus and we do hope that will encourage students to come forward and let us help if they’ve been assaulted in some way,” he said.

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