UMS trustees address proposed policy on sex crimes, domestic violence

University of Maine Chair of the Board of Trustees Sam Collins
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
University of Maine Chair of the Board of Trustees Sam Collins Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 29, 2014, at 7:18 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 31, 2014, at 6:59 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A proposed University of Maine System policy will redefine terms such as dating violence, sexual harassment and consent to a sexual act, if the board of trustees approves it in November.

At their meeting Friday, trustees discussed the new policy, which was produced amid a national movement to reduce the incidence of sexual violence on campuses and among students.

Notably, the 15-page policy, which is in draft form, clearly defines consent as an active declaration rather than the lack of an objection.

“Consent is clear, knowing and voluntary,” the policy states. “Consent is active, not passive. Consent may be withdrawn at any time. Silence, in and of itself, cannot be interpreted as consent.”

It goes on to explain that if a person is incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol or for whatever reason does not understand the extent of the situation unfolding, then there is no consent.

Trustee Sam Collins told board members this new definition of consent, which is in step with federal regulations and is being adopted by campuses across the country, is not well understood by the general population.

“We have to change the culture on campuses,” he said. “What was acceptable 30 or 20 years ago is not acceptable today. The mindset of young men has to be changed, and I don’t think we’re there yet.”

The new policy addresses the issue of confidentiality, stating, “The University encourages people who have experienced sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, or retaliation to talk to somebody about what happened so they can get the support they need, and so the University can respond appropriately.”

It goes on to say that all university employees must report these incidents when they learn of them, but that reporting to the university does not necessarily lead to filing a formal complaint with the police.

However, there will be situations where university officials need to report to the police even if the victim does not want them to, such as when the safety of other students is threatened.

“I’m curious how we balance the victim’s desire not to report to law enforcement with campus safety?” Trustee Norman Fournier asked.

“Very carefully,” Nina Lavoie, the director of equal opportunity at the University of Maine, responded.

“When I meet with the student, I let them know up front that my responsibilities have to be to protect the campus community,” Elizabeth Lavoie, deputy Title IX and sexual assault and violence prevention coordinator at UMaine, explained.

She also tells the student she cannot do anything if they do not speak with her.

“If there was ever a situation where I felt that I had to go forward, I always make sure the victim is aware,” she said.

The University of Maine has been affected in recent years by incidents of relationship violence, most notably involving football players Zedric Joseph and Jovan Belcher.

Joseph was arrested by university police Dec. 17, 2012, and charged with domestic violence assault and domestic violence criminal threatening. He is facing a murder charge in Florida, where he is accused of fatally stabbing the boyfriend of the woman with whom Joseph had a relationship while at UMaine. He also is accused of stabbing the woman.

Belcher made national headlines in 2012, when the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker fatally shot his girlfriend, then committed suicide with a handgun in Kansas City.

During his four years as a student at UMaine, Belcher was confronted by police about two on-campus incidents involving a woman. No criminal charges were filed in either incident.

Several trustees also had questions about whether a report of an incident can be made regardless of when the incident happened in the past.

Trustee James Erwin said the university has “a clear duty to prevent and remedy;” if employees and students are told they can report any time, it makes it more difficult to remedy.

Fournier pointed out that when an employee or student brings a complaint to the university many years after the incident, “if they want to act externally, they might have missed a statute of limitation.”

Rosa Redonnet, UMS chief student affairs officer, said the new policy is the next step in a series of actions the university system has taken to ensure it is compliant with federal mandates that have come out in the last few years that attempt to draw more attention and regulation to the issue of on-campus violence.

The challenge universities face will be to educate each and every student, faculty and staff member about what’s in the policy.

At UMaine, much of that work is already underway.

Elizabeth Lavoie told the trustees she met with more than 100 members of sororities and fraternities Thursday to talk about these issues. The system also is looking into purchasing an online program that can teach all members of the system about the policy.

University of Maine at Presque Isle President Linda Schott said it will be more difficult to address these issues on the smaller campuses and urged the trustees to make funds available for them.

Kemble said the definitions and explanations described in the draft exist in other places, but this policy brings them together in one place.

“It’s been an ongoing development, more than a big departure,” she said of the university’s adoption of these changes. “I would say it’s been an evolution.”

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