The U.S. Department of Education released a recommendation in 2011 that universities should take proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment and violence. It is suggested that universities do so by investigating all reported instances of sexual abuse, violence and harassment – even those reported by somebody other than the survivor.
Although Central Michigan University already practices a majority of guidelines within the recommendation, there’s one key difference between the suggested practice and our actual practice.
CMU isn’t alone, though. At many universities, the survivor of sexual crimes must come forward independently in order for an investigation to begin. This is a key difference from the policy adopted by the University of Michigan, which investigates any incidents reported to the university, regardless of whether the survivor requests the investigation.
Accordingly, after U-M reversed its policy, the number of reported sexual assaults increased exponentially – not necessarily because there were more incidents occurring, but simply because investigations became more frequent.
CMU should follow U-M’s example. Officials might have to investigate more incidents, but that’s not the point. This suggested policy is focused on helping survivors get the justice they deserve, whether they feel the need to come forward on their own or another person does it for them.
Certainly, this is not to say the work the Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates and others working to prevent sexual abuse, harassment and violence at CMU do is for naught. They do excellent work, and CMU is lucky to have such incredibly useful workers and tools at its disposal.
But following U-M’s example could make their work that much more worthwhile.
It takes a great deal of courage for a survivor to step up and request an investigation.
For one, it’s not something that a survivor necessarily wants to speak about. By committing to an investigation, survivors are often required to agree to courtroom testimonies and medical examinations, which are often not appealing situations.
Second, survivors are often concerned that because of violating other laws or campus policies, such as alcohol and drug usage, they’ll be incriminating themselves while they try to get help.
By changing the policy to allow for all reported cases to receive a genuine investigation, it would open the doors for these silent survivors to get the justice they deserve.
It just takes that first step.