February 20, 2014
The rising number of incidents of sexual misconduct by students being reported on the Ann Arbor campus is a strong indicator that the university has the right polices in place.
That was the message from Holly Rider-Milkovich, director of U-M's Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. She offered an update Thursday during the Board of Regents' meeting.
While she said it is not possible to get an accurate count of the number of sexual misconduct incidents on campus, the number of reported incidents has been growing along with an evolution of the university's policy. She said national studies indicate as few as 5 percent of all incidents are ever reported to police.
The number of reported incidents of sexual misconduct by students has grown from two in 2009 and three in 2010 to 68 in 2011 and 75 in 2012. Part of the reason for the growing number is a change in university policy that occurred in 2011.
"I am glad these numbers have risen dramatically," Rider-Milkovich said. "They speak to the effectiveness of our policy." She said more complainants are willing to come forward if they are confident incidents will be thoroughly investigated. That makes for a safer campus environment, she said.
It was 2011 when U-M put in place an interim procedure that changed the university's approach from a complaint-driven process to an investigatory process.
That means that before the fall of 2011, only a complainant moved the process forward. With the implementation of the interim policy, and with the final policy today, an investigation is carried out any time the university receives information about an incident of sexual misconduct.
Rider-Milkovich said the rising number of reports "means student are being connected to the support and services they need to heal." This, she said, is consistent with having effective prevention programs in place.
She said she was "very proud" to report that President Mary Sue Coleman mandated in 2004 that every incoming student must participate in a sexual violence prevention education program within the first eight weeks of arriving on campus. "That was a full decade before is was required by the U.S. Department of Education."
Today U-M students devote more than 3,000 volunteer hours to those sexual violence prevention efforts each fall.
Rider-Milkovich also said she was troubled by recent news reports that have made public details of sexual misconduct incidents that she believes should remain private.
"Already this fall I have heard from more than one survivor who chose not to share her experience because she did not want the terrible details of her experience available for public scrutiny. She did not want to be a topic of conversation."
Rider-Milkovich echoed points she made in a commentary published Feb. 19 in The Detroit News when she told regents she was "proud of our accomplishment and proud that this university has not revealed private matters" in sexual misconduct cases. The university has a strong policy of not disclosing student disciplinary matters.
"As an advocate who sits in the room and hears the painful details of their stories, I am proud of our institution for working and standing with survivors to have a safe community."