By Marisa Demarco
There are two ways a campus sexual assault can be investigated: 1) criminally and by police, which may lead to a trial in months or years down the line 2) administratively by a university, which could lead to a student being suspended or expelled.
People who’d been sexually assaulted at the University of New Mexico came to me with stories about how the long, confusing administrative investigation left them feeling vulnerable, and in some cases, unable to finish school. In some instances, the reporting process itself, they told me, put them in jeopardy. They said the system re-traumatized survivors of sexual assault.
The federal Office of Civil Rights says administrative university investigations should take 60 days. But I was hearing from my sources that these were going on for way longer than that.
I started looking for numbers. How many cases spilled over that 60-day timeframe and how long did they drag on? Students were telling me cases dragged on for more than a year sometimes. UNM said it was an average of only 90 days.
I put in an IPRA request for timeline information. I tailored my request so identity was not part of the information I sought, only dates. Pages and pages of black squares came to my inbox. The documents were so heavily redacted, I couldn’t make heads or tails of them.
Many of the students I spoke with did not want to be used in any reporting I did. Person after person would explain that speaking out could lead to a lot of trouble within their academic program or could be a traumatizing experience.
And the university, though willing to speak generally about the process for investigating civil rights complaints, didn’t sufficiently respond to student allegations that UNM’s investigations interfered with their ability to finish school.
Using expert sources, I still reported on the core issue and what’s at stake for students. KUNM aired a series before and after the Department of Justice released its report on how UNM handles sexual assault.
Marisa Demarco is a radio reporter with KUNM News and an SPJ Rio Grande board member.
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