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Sexual misconduct reports at UM drop 9%

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Sexual misconduct reports at University of Michigan decreased nine percent last year, according to the third report the university has released on the issue.

Unveiled Tuesday, UM’s Student Sexual Misconduct Annual Report shows there were 157 sexual assault reports in 2015-16 — down from the previous year when 172 were reported.

There were 18 investigations in 2015-16, also down from 29 investigations the year before, the report showed.

Five policy violations occurred — three sexual assaults and two sexual harassments — representing four cases, investigations showed.

“UM encourages individuals to report misconduct to the university and, where appropriate, to law enforcement. We are deeply invested in addressing these issues and providing a fair and effective process,” said Anthony Walesby, the university’s Title IX coordinator and senior director of Office for Institutional Equity.

“We also respect the decisions of individuals considering whether and how to report concerns. Our goal is for more students to feel increasingly comfortable coming forward and sharing what happened to them.”

It is unclear why reports declined last year, UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said.

“The short answer is, we do not know why,” Fitzgerald said. “We encourage students to report for several reasons: So incidents can be thoroughly investigated. So those found responsible can be held accountable. So students affected get access to the support and resources they need.”

The findings follow one of the largest national surveys of campus sexual misconduct that showed a vast majority of UM and Michigan State University students who experience sexual misconduct do not report it.

The national survey was released in 2015 by the Association of American Universities, which is now headed by former UM President Mary Sue Coleman.

That survey showed 76.8 percent of female victims of nonconsensual penetration by physical force at UM did not report it.

UM — along with Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University and Alma College — has been under investigation by federal officials for the handling of sexual misconduct reports. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights found MSU violated the law and entered an agreement requiring the university to make numerous changes to its campus policies.

Many universities, including UM, have worked to address the campus climate, and Michigan first lady Sue Snyder recently hosted the state’s second summit to find ways to combat sexual assault on college campuses.

In the wake of the federal investigation at UM, which has grown dramatically and is still not resolved, the university released a baseline report showing 129 sexual misconduct reports in 2013-14 to the university.

In 2014-15, reports climbed to 172, then dropped to 157 last year.

Of the 157 reports of sexual misconduct at UM last year, 80 were about sexual assault. Another 49 involved reports about sexual harassment; 14 involved stalking, one involved retaliation and 19 were categorized as “other.”

Nearly a third — 53 — of the sexual misconduct reports to UM were determined not to fall within the scope of the university’s policy, officials said. Among the reasons: reports filed by someone not affiliated with the university or behavior that would not constitute sexual misconduct.

A UM panel reviewed 88 reports; those reviews occur when the complainant declines to participate in an investigation. Of those, 77 cases were closed, nine cases led to other action taken to address concerns; two cases were investigated.

One report of alleged sexual harassment led to a voluntary informal resolution to address the complaint instead of an investigation.

Last summer UM adopted a revised sexual misconduct policy that addresses student sexual and gender-based misconduct, so this report will be the last time the university will report misconduct as defined under the previous student policy, effective from Aug. 29, 2013, to June 30, 2016.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com