Students petition against change to misconduct policy

Students are standing up to the recent changes to Duke’s sexual misconduct policy that reduce the timeframe in which students can report alleged incidents of sexual assault.

This January, the Office of Student Conduct reduced the reporting period for sexual misconduct from two years to one year after the incident occurs. Some students are concerned that this change might discourage victims who are uncomfortable reporting the incident without ample time to recuperate. A petition asking administrators to reverse the policy started to circulate April 1 and has acquired about 1,000 signatures as of Saturday, said senior Ebonie Simpson, Duke Student Government vice president of student life and an intern at the Women’s Center.

“I hope that students are really understanding that this affects everyone—it’s not an issue that just affects women,” said Simpson, who was one of the petition’s main architects. “I just hope that the administration responds effectively and efficiently. The school year is almost out.”

Stephen Bryan, director of the Office of Student Conduct and associate dean of students, deferred all comment to Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta.

The petition, which is sponsored by women’s issues blog Develle Dish and Duke Student Government, lays out three primary grievances with the new statute of limitations: victims of sexual assault have less time to seek redress, perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to be held accountable, and incidents of sexual assault will continue to be under-reported.

“We demand that the [sexual misconduct] policy not limit the ability for victims to report sexual misconduct while they and the accused are enrolled at Duke,” the petition states.

Duke made this change to the policy in order to align with Department of Education Office for Civil Rights requirements. The federal terms mandate that there cannot be different standards for students and for employees regarding the statute of limitations and reports of harassment, Moneta said. He added that it was easier to amend the student policy to match the existing terms for faculty and staff rather than the inverse.

“I don’t want to create the impression that [reversing the policy change] is inevitable or even likely,” Moneta said, adding that the Office of Institutional Equity and Student Affairs would have to coordinate that change.

The amended sexual misconduct policy includes additional changes. Students now have right to appeal an Undergraduate Conduct Board decision regarding sexual misconduct.

In line with a federal mandate, the standard of evidence for all cases has been changed from “clear and convincing” to “a preponderance of evidence,” which means that the accused will be found responsible if the evidence shows that he or she is “more likely than not” guilty.

Junior Sunhay You, Develle Dish editor-in-chief and petition organizer, said she was shocked by the reduction of the reporting time for victims of sexual misconduct when OSC informed students of the updates in a January blast email.

“We didn’t think students were aware the change had happened—we also didn’t think students were aware what the experience of a sexual assault survivor was,” You said. “We needed to raise awareness around why the statute of limitations should be longer and about why survivors might need longer than a year.”

The next step for the petition’s organizers is to lobby the administration, Simpson said.

The petition’s launch coincided with the opening of “Breaking Out,” a photography exhibit by Develle Dish that features student sexual assault victims holding posters displaying the words of their attackers. The exhibit was on display in the Bryan Center last week and is now available on Develle Dish.

Junior Neha Sharma, a staff writer for Develle Dish, organized the “Breaking Out” campaign. The blog decided to launch the campaign in response to the policy change, Sharma said.

“[It] is a great way to communicate to [the OSC] that the student population does care about this issue and is not okay with this policy change,” she said.

You believes the petition and campaign have made it easier for survivors and supporters to voice their concerns about the policy and sexual misconduct. She noted that although there has been an outpouring of support in response to the petition and the “Breaking Out” campaign, sexual assault is still a taboo subject at Duke.

“The supporters are becoming more visible and louder, but at the same time the fear is still there,” You said.


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