University to centralize all sexual misconduct cases through Sexual Harassment Prevention Office

Allyson Chiu and Yvonne Kim

All cases of sexual misconduct at Northwestern will now be handled through the University’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Office, the office announced Thursday in an email. Previously, the Office of Student Conduct handled cases against students.

“We believe the centralized model will allow us to increase coordination of prevention and complaint resolution response, expedite response to concerns and allow us to engage in more effective educational and communication efforts,” Joan Slavin, who directs the office, told The Daily in an email before the announcement.

The email from Slavin to students outlined that and other changes to the University’s misconduct policy, including an updated definition of consent and a rewritten section about retaliation.

The expanded definition of consent states that “to engage in sexual activity with one person does not constitute consent to engage in sexual activity with another person.” On the same page of the policy, there was also an expanded definition of coercion, explaining that someone could not give consent if there was “severe or persistent pressure causing fear of significant consequences from respondent if one does not engage in sexual activity.”

In addition, the policy on retaliation was rewritten to include specific examples, such as removing someone from an organization, lowering someone’s grade, as well as direct or indirect intimidation.

“That’s a great line to have because a lot of the time there’s a lot of fear about (reporting assault),” said Weinberg senior Molly Benedict, executive director of Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators. “It’s important that … survivors making these reports know that people against them will be held accountable.”

Benedict also said it is “fantastic” to see the University listing a wider range of confidential resources available to students, such as KAN-WIN, which offers multilingual counseling to Asian-American victims.

The announcement also listed an upcoming resource guide for those accused of sexual misconduct.

Weinberg fifth-year senior Hannah Merens, who volunteers with Rape Victim Advocates of Chicago, said more resources should be offered to survivors of sexual assault, rather than those accused of it.

“When we’re looking at the culture of rape culture, which is inextricable from the way that we socialize, that culture has already been providing the resources for these assailants to say, ‘That didn’t happen,’ or, ‘Well, they didn’t say no,’” Merens said. “The laws are written for that to be the case; our social scripts are written for that to be the case.”

Slavin declined to be interviewed until Friday.

The University’s announcement follows the findings of last year’s campus climate survey, which allowed students to submit recommendations to administration. The email directed students to the June report, which followed the survey and included recommendations for future action.

“There’s always going to be room for improvement,” Benedict said. “But I think looking at the campus climate survey they’re taking it seriously and trying to take the right steps.”

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