New UT sexual misconduct policy goes into effect next week | News
(WBIR - KNOXVILLE) The University of Tennessee is unveiling its new policy on sexual misconduct, relationship violence and stalking. The policy officially goes into effect Aug. 19, which is the first day of classes.
The policy is the final result of a yearlong research project and discussion by a university task force. That task force was made up of university directors, staff and students. It was created to make the rules and standards at UT easier for everyone to understand.
The policy blends both national requirements and what the task force feels will work best for UT.
"You have these federal regulations you have to abide by. You have campus procedures that you want to blend those regulations into, and then you take a look at what your campus can put on these things as its own stamp," Assistant Vice Chancellor Jenny Richter said Wednesday.
The university's stamp is its own definition of consent.
"It's from, 'Hey! No, stop! to 'Do you want to go further?" Richter said.
The new definition shifts responsibility from the potential victim to the person initiating the actions.
"If you're walking down the street and you have a $20 bill hanging out of your back pocket... do you have to turn around and say, Hey, don't steal it? Or does someone have to come up to you and say, Hey, can i have that $20?" Richter said.
Richter is expecting a challenge to this definition of consent from several courts.
"We had some indication from around the country that this is going to be not looked upon kindly by courts.We know of two court cases at least that are saying, 'That's ridiculous,' " Richter said.
Despite that, Richter and the university are standing firm by the definition.
"They (the courts) don't deal with university students on a regular basis. These are very complex situations, so it's going to be difficult and these things will be challenged. We felt, at the UT community, that this was the best way to move forward with a different way of thinking about these issues," Richter said.
There has been an increase in reported sexual assaults at UT over the last two years. A high profile one includes former football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, accused of rape in November.
"That's a good thing and a bad thing," Richter said.
The rise in incidents reported does not mean necessarily that more are happening. It means that more are being reported.
"I think that the incidents have been happening, and people weren't reporting it. I don't think there has been an increase in incidents," Richter said.
The university also now also faces an investigation by federal authorities after a complaint was filed. The complaint alleges UT failed to promptly investigate a report of sexual violence. The investigation is in its early stages.
Richter credits the increase in assault reporting to an increase in resources.
"Every time I do a sexual assault training, and I've done a lot of them, we get new complaints because people understand then that there are ways to address something," Richter said.
Richter expects to see another increase in reported incidents this year.
"I'd like to say we wouldn't have that, but I fully expect that we will," Richter said.
Richter says the university is more than prepared to implement the new policy, but knows enforcing it will be an uphill battle.
"Policies and procedures help after the fact. Where it's going to be a challenge and always will be for universities will be the prevention," Richter said.
The university is working on creative ways to inform students of all their options if they are the victim of an attack.