Johns Hopkins announces new, consolidated sexual misconduct policy

Johns Hopkins University today unveiled a new sexual misconduct policy, consolidating several existing policies into one and outlining a new, streamlined process for the review and resolution of cases.

The policy spells out the procedures for reporting sexual misconduct—including sexual assault complaints—the rights of the complainant and the respondent, the obligations of the university, and the protocols for investigating and resolving a complaint. It also reiterates the prohibition on retaliation against those who make complaints or participate in the process.

In announcing the new policy, Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels also released a report that describes JHU's ongoing efforts to combat sexual violence on its campuses, highlighting the work the university has undertaken over the past year.

"As a community, we have worked to determine how best to prevent sexual misconduct of all kinds," Daniels wrote in a message to faculty, staff, and students today. "We have enlisted the help of experts in our response to incidents and in our support for those affected. We have worked diligently to educate every member of our community. And, while we have made mistakes, we have held ourselves accountable and continue to improve."

Also see: The Johns Hopkins University Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures

The new document combines existing university policies related to sexual harassment, sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking, a change based on feedback from members of the university community, who indicated that a single policy would be easier to access, navigate, and understand.

It also outlines a new process for the review of cases involving student respondents from any Johns Hopkins school. Going forward, those cases will be resolved by a three-person panel made up of two faculty and/or staff members and one retired judge or other qualified legal professional. According to the new policy, appeals will be reviewed by the vice provost for student affairs, Kevin Shollenberger, or his designee.

Cases involving faculty and staff respondents will continue to be resolved at the school or unit level, and all cases will continue to be investigated by the university's Office of Institutional Equity.

The new policy retains existing guidance on consent and includes a clear and detailed definition—"consent requires a clear 'yes,' verbal or otherwise; it cannot be inferred from the absence of a 'no'"—adding that consent cannot be obtained from an individual that is "unconscious, asleep, physically helpless, or … unable to make a rational decision because the person lacks the ability to understand his or her decision." Further, the policy states that consent can be revoked at any time, and past consent does not necessarily imply future consent.

Last fall, the university issued a Sexual Violence, Sexual Assault, Relationship Violence, and Stalking Policy and related procedures. At that time, Daniels said that there was "more work to be done, and we know well that solutions to such a persistent challenge will have a lasting impact only if they reflect the voices and perspectives of our community, and most especially our students."

Heeding the president's call, the university sought input and perspective from across the Johns Hopkins community, particularly from students. The Sexual Violence Advisory Committee developed and released recommendations based on the feedback it received, leading to the creation of the new unified policy.

"Our work is guided by the federal requirements of the Title IX statute and the 2013 Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act," Daniels wrote. "It is shaped by our interactions with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which is investigating our response to reports of misconduct. It is framed by our understanding that a victim is never to blame for a sexual assault. And it is rooted in our fundamental commitment to ensuring our processes are responsive, compassionate, fair, and transparent. I urge you to review the report."

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