Director: Sexual Misconduct Complaints Rise At OU

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Sexual misconduct complaints and cases coming to Ohio University’s Equity and Civil Rights Compliance office have gone up, according to the director of the office.

The number of faculty/staff cases brought to the ECRC office more than doubled between fiscal years 2015 and 2016, and student cases went up by ten in the same period.

The information was presented to the OU Board of Trustees’ Joint Academic/Resources Committee along with an explanation of the ECRC’s process for investigating complaints.

Committee members heard the update from the new executive director of the office, Sara Trower, who also gave an update on Title IX compliance with the university.

Trower said the rise in complaints could be related to efforts by the university and the community to make victims aware of the resources available.

“With heightened visibility (of resources), you will see an increase in complaints,” Trower said.

In fiscal year 2015, the office saw six cases of misconduct involving faculty/staff, and 21 cases of misconduct involving students. In fiscal year 2016, which ended in June, 14 faculty/staff cases were reported and 31 student cases, according to number provided to the committee by Trower.

In that year, 22 complaints were categorized as “non-consensual sexual contact,” up from five the year before. Sexual harassment by hostile environment complaints went up from 11 in 2015 to 15 in 2016. “Non-consensual sexual intercourse” claims nearly doubled, from eight in 2015 to 13 in 2016.

Hostile environment cases in the faculty/staff category were up from five in 2015 to 11 in 2016.

In the current fiscal year, which began July 1, so far there are five pending student cases of misconduct, and three faculty-staff complaints.

Trower also cited “areas of concern” that have been identified by those that have interacted with the equity and civil rights office. Those include a failure in the office’s prompt response to complaints, “process deficiencies,” a failure to follow the processes and a “lack of coordinated response,” according to documents provided by Trower to the committee members.

“Anecdotally,” I can say this is certainly consistent with my experience at another large, research-based university and is reflective of the heightened awareness in the community of the reporting process,” Trower said when asked whether the results compared to other institutions.

Trustees expressed concerns to Trower that the process did not allow the respondent – the person who is alleged to have committed the sexual misconduct or other offense – rights for response and rights to a proper criminal case if the investigation led to that.

“The evidence is whatever the complainant gives,” said Trustee N. Victor Goodman. “But then is the respondent caught without the right to respond at a later date (during criminal proceedings)?”

Trower disagreed with Goodman’s assessment, and said the respondent is given every right due to them. She also said a “vast majority” of cases the ECRC sees do not get reported to the police.

“Even when there has been criminal charges, the respondent has been a part of the process,” Trower said.