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Other reporting avenues also present complications

November 28, 2021

Although there are other ways at the university to pursue complaints against sexual misconduct and harassment besides the Title IX and Gender Equity Unit, there were still complications for Sam, a UI undergraduate student.

When Sam decided to file a complaint against a faculty member for harassment and misconduct, they first went to the Title IX and Gender Equity Unit. Sam said they were told, however, that if they were to pursue a Title IX case, it would most likely be found with no policy violation.

Sam decided not to file a formal complaint and instead decided to go through the UI Ombudsperson. At the first meeting, Sam and the Ombudsperson talked about what Sam wanted, which was for the faculty member to step down from their service appointment. After the first meeting, the Ombudsperson sent an email to the faculty member, who agreed to have a facilitated conversation with Sam.

Before the meeting, Sam asked if they would be able to have a support person. The Ombudsperson told Sam that if they showed up with someone, the faculty member had the right to leave, so Sam decided not to bring someone.

When Sam met the Ombudsperson and faculty member on Zoom, they said they were frustrated by the nature of the meeting. Sam said the faculty member and themself were supposed to address each other by first name, which made them uncomfortable.

Sam said they were also misgendered, despite correcting the faculty member several times and having their pronouns in their name on Zoom.

Sam said the meeting was difficult because they felt like the faculty member was insincere.

The meeting lasted about an hour and a half, and Sam said they didn’t get the outcome they wanted. While they wanted the faculty member to step down from their service position, the faculty member said they were unable to do so and could only step down if found in policy violation.

Instead, the Ombudsperson offered the resolution that if the faculty member needed to contact them, an email would be facilitated with another individual. After pondering the resolution, Sam ultimately felt uncomfortable with this solution and decided to search for other avenues to file a complaint.

Sam said that the process was emotionally taxing, and felt it was very easy to get “lost in the system.” While they felt like individuals wanted to help them, policies made it difficult to give the help that they wanted.

“I feel like there’s very limited benefits for reporting through the university system,” Sam said.

Concerns about reporting sexual assault and violence are also echoed in the U.S. justice system, where prosecutors often hesitate to take on sexual assault cases, particularly where victims knew the accused or if they had consumed alcohol. In eight out of 10 cases, the victim knows the person who sexually assaulted them. Additionally, at least 50 percent of student sexual assaults involve alcohol.

Peter Hansen, an Iowa City trial lawyer told the DI that drinking has not been a major roadblock in his experience with sexual assault cases. Most of his clients deal with situations where the victim and accused know one another.

Hansen said the decision to take on a case depends on individual prosecutors’ standards and oftentimes varies from office to office. The system is also very complex, as victims often confuse the differences between the prosecutor and lawyer.

“Prosecutors don’t represent the complainant, they represent the people of the state of Iowa,” Hansen said. “They aren’t supposed to make a decision based on personal feelings. They’re supposed to go by facts. If they can believe they can prove a case beyond reasonable doubt, they are almost required to file the trial information and pursue it.”

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