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Penn State’s Newest Way To Combat Sexual Violence: The Investigative Sexual Assault Model

In an attempt to combat sexual violence, President Eric Barron agreed to institute a new investigative sexual assault model. The model is intensive and allows an investigator to create a report detailing an incident before it reaches a panel of Title IX experts for a ruling.

President Barron created the Sexual Assault and Harassment Task Force  in July of 2014. The task force was charged with the job of helping to secure a safer environment at Penn State. The committee, which was made up of two faculty members, three students, and 12 staff members, met on a weekly basis and completed a 267-page report of their findings. Included in the report were 18 recommendations for the university. In mid-February, President Barron accepted all of the recommendations.

One of the recommendations presented to President Barron was the new investigative sexual assault model. The model will be used in sexual violence cases, with the majority of sexual violence complaints going through the Office of Student Conduct.

With the new model, once a case is reported to the Office of Student Conduct, a trained investigator will gather information via interviews with both the victim and the accused. Evidence is not only taken from this interview, but also from other outlets such as witnesses, text messages, social media posts, etc. The investigator is responsible for compiling and collecting all of the evidence from the interviews and outside sources.

After the investigator completes the compilation, an investigative packet will be created that both the victim and the accused will be able to review. The victim and the accused have the opportunity to ask any questions and provide any additional or clarifying information that can aid in the investigation.

Once finalized, the investigative packet is given to the Title IX Decision Panel to review the case. The panel is comprised of faculty and staff who are specially trained in making decisions about sexual violence cases. The panel has the task of deciding whether there is a preponderance of evidence in order to convict the accused as responsible of a Student Code of Conduct violation. If a decision of responsibility is reached, the panel will determine the sanctions to be imposed.

Spencer Peters, an investigator hired in the Office of Student Conduct, said the new model will not change how students report sexual assaults on campus. “We are hopeful that as students become more aware of the process, more students will report,” he said.

Peters has worked with Penn State since 2002, first as part of the Penn State Police. While with the police, he worked specifically on sexual assault cases. In an attempt to make the sexual assault process a more investigative process, the Office of Student Conduct looked to hire someone to fulfill the investigative position. Peters was determined to be just the guy and was hired for the job.

In the future, Peters believes there will be more options for students in reporting assaults. The university is currently in the process of hiring a full-time Title IX coordinator, who may have an impact on the way that sexual assaults are reported. For the time being, following the investigative model is the way to report sexual violence at Penn State .

One of the largest benefits of the new model is the beginning of the reporting process. In previous cases, the traditional hearing process required the victim and the accused to tell their story to a panel of students, faculty, and staff, possibly multiple times. In the new model, students only have to tell their story once to the investigator. Although the hearing process is favorable for most of the cases heard by the Office of Student Conduct, the investigative model allows for a more comprehensive investigation to occur.

Peters sees this investigative process as a model with many benefits, even though these cases are difficult and time intensive. The new process aims to obtain more accurate and complete information to make informed decisions by a trained panel regarding sexual violence cases.

“We have a trained group of faculty and staff who serve as members of the Title IX Decision Panel who are well-trained in issues related to sexual violence, understand the sensitive nature of these cases, and are thoroughly trained on questioning, issues of consent, and decision-making,” Peters said.

About the Author

Caitlyn Edgell

Caitlyn is a sophomore from Hollidaysburg, PA and is studying Political Science. She is also the Social Media Manager at Onward State. To contact Caitlyn, email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @caitlyn_edgell.

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