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Maryland Universities Updating Sexual Misconduct Policy

BALTIMORE ― The University System of Maryland is updating policies on sexual misconduct, including assault and harassment, as the issue of rape on campus receives greater scrutiny from the federal government.

A Board of Regents committee is considering changes such as barring schools from requiring mediation between an alleged victim and the accused. Draft revisions also include an expanded definition of consent, and new definitions of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

The Board of Regents Committee on Education Policy and Student Life met Tuesday to discuss proposed updates to the policy. Each university within the system will be required to develop its own policy by Dec. 31. The policies may vary slightly from school to school.

The discussion comes as Frostburg State University in western Maryland was recently named among 55 colleges and universities that are being investigated for their handling of sexual abuse complaints under Title IX, a federal law barring gender discrimination. A Frostburg State spokeswoman said last month the investigation stems from an off-campus sexual assault that occurred last year.

A pair of representatives from the state attorney general’s office fielded questions from regents about the policy Tuesday.

“There is a culture change,” said Elizabeth Rivera, assistant attorney general in the educational affairs division. “We’re moving from a time when we didn’t talk about it and pretend it didn’t happen when you talk about a sexual assault, to a time when we do talk about it. There are mechanisms in here to bring it into the light, and make sure the universities have what they need to change the culture.”

Some of those mechanisms include making it plain in the policy that institutions are obligated to act quickly to investigate Title IX complaints, and should not wait for law enforcement to first complete its investigation. A memorandum of understanding between each institution and local law enforcement is written into the policy, as is a requirement that each university designate a Title IX coordinator and address complaints within 60 days.

When asked how institutions would handle incidents that involve one or more students but occur off-campus during a non-university sponsored or approved event, Joy Gaslevic, assistant attorney general in the educational affairs division, said each institution would make a determination about how to proceed based on the circumstances.

University systems and educational institutions for the past year have been under increased federal pressure to address sexual misconduct and violence on campus.

In April, a federal government task force released its first report on sexual misconduct on college campuses, calling for new prevention strategies. The University System of Maryland currently has two sexual misconduct policies: one on sexual harassment, developed in 1992; the other on sexual assault, penned in 1995. The new policy will override the two policies.

The full board will review the policy on June 27.

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