Every summer, the Office of the Title IX Coordinator revises the college’s Sexual Assault and Harassment Policy. This Tuesday, a meeting hosted by Title IX Coordinator Kaaren Williamsen detailed the changes to the policy as well as personnel changes within the Title IX office. The revisions reflect changes in federal and state laws and feedback from the campus community.
The still-open Title IX complaint filed with the Department of Education in 2013 has fueled rising campus interest about sexual assault and was part of the impetus for the college creating the Title IX office. Concern was also raised due to an increase in the number of forcible sexual offenses reported on campus, as shown in Clery Act crime statistics, which grew from 9 in 2011 and 12 in 2012 to 89 in 2013, when the most recent statistics are available. This year policy changes included clarification of some of the language used in the policy as well as personnel and legal changes.
At the meeting, Kaaren Williamsen, who was hired in July 2014 after increased concern about sexual violence on campus, stated that her goal was to make the policy as accurate and accessible as possible. “My goal is [to make a policy which] complies with all the federal guidance, that is understandable and not in legalese, and which reflects the values and language of Swarthmore,” she said.
The policy, which can be found on the webpage of the Office of the Title IX Coordinator, specifies what resources are available to victims of sexual assault, including those within the Office of the Title IX coordinator and other on-campus resources such as CAPS. It also details off-campus resources, such as the Delaware County Women Against Rape group, and what options victims of sexual assault have in reporting their assault to the college and making a formal complaint with the college.
Changes and clarifications in language, terms, and definitions made up a significant portion of the changes in the policy. The policy defines many of the terms used in defining and describing sexual assault and terms used during the adjudication process through the college, including terms like “complainant” and “respondent.” The terms “quid pro quo” and “hostile environment,” while already defined in the policy, were added to facilitate greater campus understanding of these particular acts. The definition of sexual assault itself was also changed, with the definition of “sexual contact” being expanded to include sexual intercourse, which was previously a separate category of assault, and the word “intentional” added before “unwanted sexual contact.”
The definitions of consent and incapacitation, though not themselves changed, were emphasized during the meeting. Consent is said to be demonstrated “through mutually understandable words and/or actions that clearly indicate a willingness to engage freely in sexual activity.” The effect of alcohol and drugs on a person’s ability to give consent is addressed, with the policy defining incapacitation to be “a state beyond drunkenness or intoxication“ which affects a person’s “decision-making ability” and “capacity to appreciate the nature and the quality of the act.” Despite not saying that the use of any drugs and alcohol incapacitates a person, the policy does state, “the college considers sexual contact while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs to be risky behavior.”
The changes also clarified the differences between a “private” and a “confidential” person to contact in case of possible sexual assault. While a confidential resource such as a CAPS counselor is not legally allowed to share information with anyone, a private resource can share information on a need to know basis.
Legal changes, need for more personnel, and a demand for greater accessibility were reflected in the changes as well. Changes in the federal Violence Against Women Act mean that after a decision had been made following an internal college adjudication process, both the complainant and respondent must be informed of the decision simultaneously. Williamsen said this change would mean that, for logistical reasons, complainants and respondents would no longer be told in person the result of the adjudication.
Over the summer, the college created a new Case Manager position and hired a Michelle Ray in this role. Ray will serve as a new resource to help complainants of sexual assault learn about their resources and options throughout the college adjudication process. She will also be a new option for advisor during the process, in addition to the advisors already in the Title IX office.
A new form was created on the Title IX webpage to allow members of the college community to directly report sexual assault to the Title IX coordinator, and Williamsen welcomed people to personally contact her via phone or email or in person with questions, concerns, and reports of sexual assault.
New Clery statistics regarding sexual assault on campus in the last calendar year, to be published October 1, will help to show if the recent efforts of the college have had an effect on sexual harassment and assault at Swarthmore — and perhaps lead to more changes in the future.