It has been nearly a year since the date-rape drug and sexual assault cases following a party at the former Phi Kappa Psi fraternity ignited a campus-wide conversation on the University’s perceived mishandling of sexual misconduct cases. It has been six months since Act4RJ — a student organization campaigning for better management of those cases — organized a 400-person silent protest to march through campus and University Hall. It has been five months since the release of the Task Force on Sexual Assault released its final report, in which it put forth recommendations for reforming the University’s sexual misconduct policies.
While these events may not have crossed many students’ minds since last spring — a semester shaped by campus activism — the Title IX Office worked throughout the summer, feeding off activists’ momentum to improve upon existing sexual misconduct policies. Most notably, the office has adopted several of the recommendations in the task force’s final report, including the implementation of a new sexual misconduct policy and procedure, new training for first-years — and eventually all undergraduates and staff members — and more transparent protocol for laboratory testing.
Dual investigator model
On Sept. 1, the Corporation approved the new sexual misconduct policy, in addition to a clearly defined procedure for handling any violations of this new policy, said Title IX Program Officer Amanda Walsh.
The University has implemented a dual investigator model, in which the Title IX Office will hire both an internal investigator and an external investigator. The internal investigator will handle “some cases of sexual harassment, stalking or interpersonal violence,” Walsh said, while the external investigator will handle cases “where there might be a perception of conflict and cases involving any sort of violence, whether they be physical or sexual.”
The University used external investigators to handle all cases last semester while the task force evaluated the policies, Walsh said.
Both the internal and external investigators will be trained to understand Brown’s campus culture, she said. “It’s important that they understand the dynamics at Brown in order to be effective,” she added.
Justice Gaines ’16, a member of the Task Force on Sexual Assault, expressed support for an internal investigator model but noted that the addition of an external investigator could mitigate student concerns about a possible conflict of interest within the University.
The dual investigator model introduces a “weird, murky dichotomy” wherein students may be confused as to which investigator will handle which cases, said Emily Schell ’16, founder of Stand Up!, a group that works to prevent sexual assault on campus.
The length of investigations also remains unspecified. While the U.S. Department of Education states that a typical case, excluding the appeals process, is completed in 60 days, the new University procedure does not explicitly outline how many days investigations will take, Walsh said.
“The length of the investigation will vary so significantly depending upon the complexity of the case, the number of complainants, the number of respondents, the number of witnesses and the general time frame at Brown,” Walsh said, adding that cases may prove a further challenge if they occur over winter or summer break.
The investigation will take up the majority of the timeline in this new procedure, with the Title IX Council hearing requiring far less time proportionally, she added.
The procedure currently deals only with cases in which the accused party, or respondent, is a student. Moving forward this fall, the Title IX Office will draft a procedure for situations in which faculty and staff members are respondents, Walsh said.
Sexual assault prevention
As the University reviews the new first-year sexual assault online education program, as well as the in-person “Speak About It” presentation held during orientation, many students have begun to consider what the future of training will look like for the broader campus.
In April, the Task Force on Sexual Assault recommended that all students, faculty and staff participate in annual education programs. What those programs will look like has not yet become clear, said Sazzy Gourley ’16, president of the Undergraduate Council of Students.
“It needs to be something that is more substantial than an online training,” he said, noting that while the training should be annual, it should not be repetitive.
Gaines said the task force has considered a variety of models for yearly training. One proposed model involves a series of training workshops that would be hosted throughout the semester. Students would be required to attend one of the sessions in order to register for classes, Gaines said.
Another model involves a “re-orientation” at the beginning of each year, and yet another could involve an online training module specifically tailored to a student’s class year, Gaines added.
Both Gaines and Schell voiced a desire for student leaders to be involved in this new education program, whatever shape it may take.
Gaines said without further University funding, the Title IX Office would be understaffed and under-equipped to handle expanding education efforts.
Miriam Hospital, Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children’s Hospital will offer forensic drug testing for survivors of sexual assault as a result of new partnerships with Health Services, said Director of Health Services Unab Khan.
The drug test, which requires a urine sample from patients, was not previously offered at any of the local hospitals. The hospitals could offer a clinical test, but the results would not be forensically analyzed if the survivor did not file criminal charges, Khan said. She added that survivors may now find out the results of the test before having to press criminal charges. This will not just apply to Brown students, but anyone seeking the test at these hospitals.
Completed by NMS Labs, the test checks for a panel of different drugs associated with sexual violence, including GHB, flunitrazepam, cocaine and alcohol, Khan said.
She added that the University will no longer perform hair tests like the one involved in the alleged GHB case, which was found to be improperly conducted.
“We learned from what happened last year. … We spoke to a lot of forensic specialists and found that hair testing is not used to find the one-time effect of a drug,” Khan said. “It might be used by employers to determine the regular use of a drug, or (the test) will be positive in somebody who had a massive dose of any drug at one time.”
The University will no longer work with ExperTox Inc. or the Carlson Company, the laboratory that analyzed the hair test and the company that produced the toxicology report for last year’s GHB case, respectively, Khan said.
Khan stressed the importance of survivors visiting the hospital as soon as they suspect they have been a victim of sexual violence. The sooner a test is completed, the more accurate it is, she added.
“The caveat is that just because a test is negative doesn’t mean that something bad didn’t happen,” Khan said.
The results of the test will come back within seven to 10 days, she said, fitting into the narrow timeline outlined by the new procedure.
Additionally, LGBTQ survivors of sexual violence who may not feel comfortable being treated for trauma at Rhode Island’s major hospitals may seek services from Hasbro Children’s Hospital, which could provide them with proper care, Khan said.
Students can call the Sexual Assault Response Hotline before visiting a hospital to have a confidential University representative visit the hospital with them and guide them in making decisions about which care to receive, Khan said.
“You want someone who knows the system to navigate it with you and be your advocate,” Khan added. “You don’t want to do it alone.”