A group of students is calling on administrators to amend the University’s policy on sexual misconduct.
After researching sexual violence and policies at other universities, a Duke Student Government task force—formed Spring 2012—drafted a memorandum outlining their demands. They sent the document to several administrators, proposing that the statute of limitations be extended to allow sexual misconduct victims to file complaints as long as they are associated with the University as a current student, faculty or staff member.
Duke Student Affairs leaders said they do not expect a change to the current policy, which allows a victim to report an incident up to one year after it occurs.
“There’s been a little bit of resistance, but it’s the kind of thing where we haven’t gotten a ton of answers yet,” said junior Stefani Jones, DSG vice president for equity and outreach and a leader of the task force. “We have been working with the administration and haven’t made as much progress as we would like.”
In January, the Office of Student Conduct reduced the reporting period for sexual misconduct from two years to one year after the incident. The policy change was a response to federal regulations for universities released by the U.S. Department of Education, which required sexual harassment reporting procedures for students to match those for University employees.
Women’s issues blog Develle Dish and Duke Student Government sponsored a petition in April specifying grievances with the reduced statute of limitations. The task force operating currently consists of a diverse group of students, including some associated with DSG, the Women’s Center and Develle Dish, Jones said.
Stephen Bryan, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Student Conduct, wrote in an email Wednesday that he did not know of any pending action in the direction of changing the statue of limitations. He deferred further comment to Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs and DSG President Alex Swain, a senior, for further comment.
“DSG has a group hoping to bring about change and I applaud their conviction but any such change will require that policies that apply to faculty and staff be changed first,” Moneta wrote in an email Wednesday. “I’m not sure that there’s support for that.”
Benjamin Reese, vice president for institutional equity, could not be reached for comment.
Senior Ian Harwood, a gender violence prevention intern at the Women’s Center and member of the task force, noted, however, the importance of reaching out to faculty because the changes would affect them as well as students.
The administration has argued that there are not enough cases reported after a year for it to be worth changing the current policy, Harwood noted.
“It’s like they are saying it’s inconvenient to change the policy,” Harwood said. “So the question is, how many rapists do we want on campus? How many are we willing to tolerate before it’s an issue?”
Looking forward, the task force is compiling a formal report on findings, concerns and demands to give to administrators, as well as an action plan, Swain said.
Swain added that she hopes the task force will continue collaborative efforts initiated in the Spring, raising awareness on campus about the policy change and the negative implications for victims of sexual misconduct.
“People don’t understand what the statute of limitations is, and when they do understand, they don’t understand that rape and sexual assault are traumatic,” Harwood said.
Strong student support will be necessary to show faculty and administrators how important the issue is in order to get the policy changed, Jones added.
“Think about how terrible it would be for a victim of sexual assault to go through [an attack] and then not be able to report that incident,” she said. “The most important thing which people should be thinking about is students being able to report.”