EAST LANSING, MICH. - The number of sexual misconduct cases reported to Michigan State University has more than tripled since the 2014-15 academic year
Some 718 cases of potential misconduct were referred to MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity during the last school year, according to the university's annual Title IX report, which was released Friday.
Of those, 625, or 87%, were not investigated, chiefly due to a lack of participation from the alleged victim.
The report covers potential violations of MSU's Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Policy by students, staff or faculty. Reports of potential misconduct are forwarded to police, though criminal investigations are separate from the university process.
MSU spokesman Jason Cody said the university doesn’t believe more reports means sexual misconduct is on the rise.
“Our efforts have been focused on awareness, education and making resources available,” Cody said. "We feel we have made marked improvement in those areas in recent years, and the increases are reflective of that.”
During the 2014-15 academic year, 201 potential violations of MSU's Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Policy were referred to university officials. That number more than doubled during the 2015-16 academic year, when 461 cases were referred.
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Lack of participation by affected students remained the most common reason why an investigation wasn't done during the 2016-17 academic year. Cody chalked that up, in large part, to more staff doing their duty as mandatory reporters of sexual misconduct.
"Just because someone doesn't want to participate doesn't mean it's not the appropriate conclusion," Cody said. "It could be claimants who don’t want to go through (the Office of Institutional Equity), and all they want are the resources like confidential consoling. We wouldn’t necessarily look at that as a bad outcome. Our outcomes are measured on providing resources claimants want."
Cody wasn't immediately able to provide a breakdown of reports by source.
Victims of sexual misconduct might also not report if their school has a poor reputation when it comes to investigations, said Faith Ferber, an organizer with Know Your IX, a group that supports and advocates for survivors of sexual violence.
"If people feel they are being retraumatized in the process of reporting sexual assault, people hear about that, and it makes a really big impact," she said.
Perceptions that investigations take too long, or that the university fails to hold perpetrators accountable, can also cause victims not to report, Ferber said.
The U.S Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights found in 2015 that MSU failed victims by taking too long to investigate reports of sexual misconduct. MSU signed an agreement with federal officials to improve its response to sexual misconduct complaints and subsequently hired additional staff.
Of the 74 cases investigated by MSU, the university found violations in 44, including 14 instances of sexual harassment and 12 of sexual assault. Investigations also turned up 40 findings that no violation had occurred, with some overlap due to cases with multiple accused students.
Five students were dismissed during the last academic year, all for sexual assault. Eleven were put on probation for charges ranging from sexual contact to harassment and stalking, and four students were suspended. Among employees, six were terminated, five for sexual harassment, and one was suspended.
The average time to complete an investigation during the 2016-17 school year was 80 days, down from 153 days between 2014 and 2016.
MSU has hired the law firm Husch Blackwell to review its Title IX policies and procedures. That review is ongoing.
“An external review of our Title IX program is important to assess our progress and plan for the future,” MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said in a news release. “This will provide us valuable input as we continue to build a more robust infrastructure to prevent sexual assault, support victims and encourage reporting.”
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