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We know that the issue of sexual assault continues to be top of mind for our campus community, and we understand that heightened awareness brings a great deal of concern and questions regarding our process. We are always listening and looking for ways to ensure our policy is working, meets federal requirements and addresses the specific needs of our campus community.

Many of you may not have been on campus when we implemented the revised policy addressing sexual assault in fall 2014. The policy was created by a cross-campus community task force who spent more than a full year working to define key terms and create a more easily navigable adjudication process to ensure personal support and care, thoroughness and fair process. The task force, comprising students, faculty, staff and a community member, held numerous open forums to solicit feedback and input into the emerging policy. As the policy was released we pledged to continue to evaluate its efficacy through an annual review. As part of that pledge, we released an annual report containing information about steps taken under the policy and convened an advisory group to review the policy, evaluate support and resources available, assess the effectiveness of the resolution process, and examine feedback from those who have been affected by the policy. The policy is a work in progress and we will continue to share information from this review process.

Recently students and others have requested that we prepare some important reminders and answers to frequently asked questions about our policy and procedures for reports against students. These topics are complex, and we are trying to make them as easy to understand as possible without oversimplifying critical aspects of the federal laws and regulations that also inform our policies. We encourage you to explore this website, the Q&A below, and visit safe.unc.edu to learn more about our policy and procedures, as well as your options for receiving care and support and for filing a report.

Above all, we want to emphasize that we care deeply about the health, safety, and well-being of our students, and are committed to doing everything we can to promptly and thoroughly respond to reports of sexual assault. One of our continued priorities is to find even more ways to support and make resources available to all parties, as needed, throughout the process. We also are working to bolster and improve measures that focus on preventing sexual violence in our community.

Please know we welcome your questions and feedback because they better help us serve you. We want to assure you that teams of people at Carolina will continue to work very hard every day to assist our campus community to help provide a safe campus where all can have an opportunity to thrive.

Felicia A. Washington, Vice Chancellor for Workforce Strategy, Equity, and Engagement
Becci Menghini, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor for Workforce Strategy, Equity, and Engagement

Answer: Sexual assault and sexual violence are forms of sexual or gender-based harassment under Title IX of the educational amendments of 1972—a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education. The Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office addresses sexual assault and violence in many ways, including connecting students with resources, investigating reports and overseeing hearings. Title IX staff also lead training, education, and awareness campaigns.
Answer: Many people ask why universities are involved in criminal matters. It’s because the federal government requires universities to provide students with a campus-based process under Title IX in addition to the criminal justice system. Students may choose to pursue either path or both. The University provides a rigorous process that must comply with federal law and guidance for investigating and addressing sexual assault reports.
Answer: We are prohibited by federal law from disclosing information about specific cases, even when students or their representatives choose to talk publicly about their situation. Our students also need to feel comfortable knowing that they can seek help without our office speaking publicly about any report.
Answer: EOC team members present a session to students during summer orientation about the University’s sexual assault policy, definition of consent, reporting options, and support and resources on campus. Parents also receive information. In addition, this information is published in the guidebooks that all students and parents receive at orientation. EOC staff members also attended every information fair this summer to speak directly with students and parents and to provide materials. All incoming students are also required to complete the Haven online training about sexual assault.
Answer: EOC is one of the offices on campus that has dedicated staff engaged in prevention efforts. We provide in-person and online trainings that are both mandatory and voluntary. Here are some examples:

  • Every student is required every year to complete an online Title IX Awareness and Violence Prevention training, which will be distributed later this academic year.
  • Employees (all staff and faculty) are required to complete the Title IX Awareness and Violence Prevention online training every other year. Other departments also provide education and prevention programming.
  • Student Wellness offers a One Act bystander intervention program, and EOC works with campus partners to provide an in-person Haven training that offers skills to support those impacted by violence.
  • Student Wellness also leads the Raise the Bar program to partner with local establishments to provide them with tools to help them recognize drug facilitated sexual assault.
  • EOC also has the Heels United for a Safe Carolina awareness campaign, which provides the opportunity for EOC to hand out information on campus about resources and types of prohibited conduct throughout the year.
  • In addition, we staff tables at many events to help get information out to and receive feedback from the campus community.
Answer: One of our Report and Response Coordinators will reach out to the student who reported the assault (reporting party) to share available resources and support options and invite them to meet with us to talk. Students do not always choose to respond at all, or may respond only after several days have passed. If the Report and Response Coordinator does not hear from the student, they will follow up to be sure the student received the information. It is important to know that we never turn a student away, even if they do not initially respond. Our goal is to encourage students to come to speak with us, as soon as or whenever they feel ready to talk, so that we can begin to provide care and support.

We also reach out every time we receive a report that includes an individual’s name, no matter who makes the report. We listen carefully to what the student says about what happened and we work to identify those areas of the student’s life where there might be a sense of fear or anxiety so that we can help where possible. We also provide the student with information about resources, protective measures, and procedural options. We discuss the student’s reporting options to move forward with an investigation under University policy, as well the student’s options to report to local law enforcement to pursue a criminal investigation. Our goal is to provide the student with as much information as possible to help them make informed decisions about available options. Also, sometimes the needs of a student change with time, and we will continue to work with them to provide needed care and support throughout their time at Carolina.

When a report moves forward to investigation with the University, our Report and Response Coordinators will reach out to the individual identified in the report (responding party) and invite them to meet. The Report and Response Coordinators will provide information and resources to the responding party including information about the investigation process and support resources available. It is at this time that an EOC investigator will be assigned and both parties will have an opportunity to provide a formal statement, evidence, and to identify any relevant witnesses.

Answer: Our goal is to provide the specific services, accommodations, and protective measures needed for each student. We never want a student to feel like they have to wander around campus to find the resources and support they may need. As soon as we connect with the student, we work with them and other campus partners to help in any way we can.

For example, in each and every case, we let students know:

  • all the campus resource options and that the student can also go to law enforcement,
  • that a criminal investigation is a separate process from our providing care and support and the University’s adjudication process, and
  • that we can connect students to law enforcement to explore pursuing a criminal investigation.

Additionally, we offer the following in each and every case, when they are warranted or requested, to:

  • call Housing to check on availability of other rooms, when a student does not feel safe in their current space.
  • call Counseling and Psychological Services to make a personal introduction.
  • contact the University’s Gender Violence Services Coordinators at the Carolina Women’s Center to facilitate an introduction so that the student can receive confidential support.
  • assist the student with obtaining a no-contact order to help them feel safe and supported on campus and not be contacted by the responding party.
  • work with faculty members to help make adjustments to exam or paper deadlines.

Every day, we work hard to help connect our students to the confidential medical care, confidential emotional and psychological support options, law enforcement reporting options, and our process for addressing reports under the University policy. We help both reporting and responding parties.

Answer: We offer a wide range of resources and support to students every time we receive a report of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault or sexual violence, interpersonal violence, and stalking. Providing support, care and accommodations are some of the most important things we do after we receive a report of sexual assault.
Answer: Generally, there are three options available to the student who files the report:

  • (1) pursuing disciplinary action, which includes an investigation and adjudication
  • (2) voluntarily resolving the matter where appropriate, and
  • (3) taking no further action.

We work with each student to address the report in a way that reflects their preference for moving forward, where possible. These possible steps are in addition to the option of contacting law enforcement to pursue criminal charges.

Please see the detailed flow chart that outlines all available options on page 11 of our procedures for reports against students.

Answer: Our goal is to resolve investigations within one semester, depending on when the incident was reported. This time frame is based on the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Right’s (OCR) guidance to all campuses stating that investigations should be resolved in 60 calendar days. However, OCR also recognizes and allows for extensions when the complexity and number of variables involved significantly increase the time it takes to resolve an investigation. As described below, most of these extensions are driven by factors, entities, and individuals outside of the University’s control.
We agree that the time it takes to complete an investigation is very important – and we try to complete every investigation as promptly as possible. However, it is even more important that we conduct the most thorough investigation we can and provide the most balanced and equitable resolution possible. Sometimes, that means investigations take longer than 60 days.
Answer: There are many variables that can affect the length of an investigation. Our procedures allow the time frames to be extended for good cause as necessary to ensure the integrity and completeness of the investigation for any or all of the following reasons:

  • A single investigation may involve scheduling and conducting interviews with 25 or more witnesses. We interview all witnesses and must work around their response times and schedules, which often can mean waiting until witnesses return from a semester break or a study abroad program.
  • Scheduling around the calendars of each party’s attorneys or support persons as required frequently causes significant delays.
  • Some cases involve identifying and reviewing hundreds of pages of information, including emails, social media posts, text messages, and medical records. It can take a significant amount of time to gather and process these materials even when we eventually get them. Further, as we have no subpoena power, some of these materials may take a significant amount of time to access.
  • Cases involving forensic evidence often take longer because we must rely on testing and analysis conducted by agencies outside the University.
Answer: Yes. Under federal guidance, when an extension is needed (for good cause), we reach out to both parties and let them know in writing about the reason for extending the time. We contact both parties to ensure they know about additional support and resources to help address any anxiety, stress, or other issues that the extension may cause. Sometimes, as described above, we may need to make numerous extensions.
Answer: Both parties may contest the investigative finding and request that the matter be heard by a hearing panel. There are also grounds for appealing outcomes from the hearing panel. The process is designed to ensure that both a reporting party and a responding party have notice of the allegations, equal opportunity to participate and provide information, equal and timely access to the information gathered that will be used to reach a determination of responsibility, and a full and fair opportunity to be heard.

Given the complex and devastating nature of these cases, we understand that there will almost always be someone who is disappointed in the outcome or by the process. Title IX staff work with students to help them understand the process in advance, and address questions along the way. We also continue to provide resources and support to students, even if the outcome is not what they wanted. We understand that the investigation and hearing panel processes affect all students differently, and we work to make the process as accessible and easy to navigate as possible.

Answer: First, the Office of Civil Rights requires that we evaluate the evidence using the “preponderance of the evidence” standard. This means evaluating whether it is more likely than not that a policy violation occurred. This is different than the standard of evidence used in criminal proceedings, which is proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” – a higher standard of proof. A hearing panel hears the case de novo, also affording each party the opportunity to have an attorney and support person present. De novo is a legal term that means that the case is heard as though from the beginning. It is possible that a new set of reviewers in the de novo process may reach a different finding.

The hearing panel is new to the facts and circumstances, and will assess evidence, as well as the credibility of witnesses, to reach an independent determination as to responsibility. The hearing panel will review the investigation report and all evidence, including any live testimony, to make a determination by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not) as to responsibility.

Answer: We understand that hearings are likely to be very stressful, as they are often the first opportunity that the parties have to hear each other’s narratives out loud (parties likely previously read each other’s statements during the investigation phase, but hearing the information out loud can have an even more stressful impact). We do everything we can to help alleviate stress and discomfort, including following guidance that OCR suggests we follow.

Students may have an attorney and support person of their choice join them. We provide private rooms for their support person so that they can connect with them in private when needed, place physical barriers in the room so that parties don’t see each other, and offer the ability to participate in the hearing by phone or by videoconference in lieu of appearing in person.

We also don’t allow parties to directly question each other. Parties submit questions to our hearing coordinator in advance. The hearing coordinator reviews the questions and asks questions to the parties. Questions asked by the panel may be uncomfortable based on the nature of the subject matter, but they are necessary to assess credibility and to thoroughly examine the facts. For example, questions about clothing and a person’s level of intoxication, while never used to place blame or judge an individual, are often necessary areas of inquiry to explore potential sources of physical evidence (is clothing ripped, torn or does it have biological stains), to understand the full context of the incident, or to evaluate whether the person was incapacitated such that they were incapable of consenting to sexual activity.