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Duke changes sanctioning guidelines for sexual assault cases

Duke is increasing the expected sanctions for students found guilty of sexual assault.

The Office of Student Conduct's Appellate Board agreed to change their sanctioning guidelines so that expulsion is used as the "preferred sanction" in sexual assault cases, said senior Stefani Jones, president of Duke Student Government. Jones said she began pushing for a tougher sanctioning policy with the Gender Equity Task Force and DSG this Spring.

“We're really confident that this new change is a step in the right direction toward both preventing and addressing sexual assault on campus, as stricter sanctions are a critical aspect of gender-violence prevention,” Jones said.

The University does not have mandatory minimum sanctions for any given violation, but the previously established precedent for sanctions in sexual assault cases was suspension for three to six semesters, according to a DSG blog post Monday. Although the Undergraduate Conduct Board holds the right to impose any sanction after a student is found responsible for a violation, the recommended sanction for sexual assault is stricter than beforehand.

This Spring, an increase in sanctions was recommended unanimously by the students on the Office of Student Conduct Student Advisory Group. The sanction change was finalized by the Appellate Board, which meets annually with students, administrators and lawyers to revise conduct policy. 

Junior Nikolai Doytchinov, executive vice president of DSG, represented DSG at the meeting and argued that expulsion was the appropriate sanction for most cases of sexual assault. 

“I'm very happy with the change,” Doytchinov said. “Sexual assault is one of the most serious crimes that take place on Duke's campus, and it deserves the maximum sanction that Duke can impose.”  

Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta noted that this change only pertains to undergraduates. Graduate and professional students' adjudications are handled by their respective schools.

Not every case in which a student is found responsible for sexual assault will necessarily result in expulsion, Moneta said. Rather, expulsion is the “normative sanction expected” and there will be some determination by the hearing panel as to whether or not some factor should influence a change to that expectation.

“As always, each case is unique and outcomes are specific to the facts and circumstances of that case,” Moneta said.

Jones also noted that the University has no required, “cut-and-dry” sanction for a specific violation. 

“In the past, the average sanction for similar offenses has been three to four semesters—including summer—which was really insufficient, considering the severity of the violation,” Jones said. “What this does, though, is set the standard for the discussion so that expulsion is essentially the rule and suspension is the exception, rather than the other way around.”

The change comes after Duke eliminated the statue of limitations on sexual misconduct reporting in October. The statue of limitations for sexual misconduct—the period of time in which students can report an incident—was reduced from two years to one in Jan. 2012 to order to comply with requirements that Duke negotiated with the Department of Education in 2011. 

After months of student protest, the University eliminated the one-year statue of limitations on sexual misconduct reporting. Jones, who was DSG vice president for equity and outreach, was the leader of the student task force reviewing the policy.

Punishing those found responsible for sexual assault, however, is only one step in reducing the incidence of sexual assault on campus, Doytchinov said. 

“My colleagues in DSG and I will continue to study this difficult issue and to advocate for best practices in education, prevention, intervention and support,” he said. “In terms of process, DSG and other student leaders have been advocating for tougher sanctions for a while.”

Moneta said that this change is but one among many recent efforts to reduce incidents of sexual misconduct— including bystander intervention, anti-hazing work and reforms by many students and student groups themselves. 

“In general, I support this change as it makes clear how much of an offense to the community as well as to a victim sexual misconduct is,” Moneta said. “While I hope that this change influences behaviors before they occur, I don't yet know if it will.”


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