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The truth of the matter 

Cal Poly's Title IX Office works tirelessly to find the truth in sexual assault cases

I read the Shredder's comments on Cal Poly's handling of sexual violence complaints in the Jan. 18 issue ("Celebrate by crying") with great interest. I believe your readers (and perhaps your reporters?) would benefit from some additional background on the campus Title IX complaint investigation and adjudication process.

Start with the fact that Title IX investigators are supposed to be neutral fact-finders, without bias toward or against either party. There is no reward from the university for making a particular finding—for example, at Cal Poly, Title IX investigators are expected to make their findings based on the facts and the policy, not to hush things up.

Basic due process rights for all parties are required. This means that both sides get to tell their side of the story, to provide evidence and name witnesses, and have those witnesses who are relevant interviewed.

The accused has the right to know all of the allegations and to respond to them. Both parties are also entitled to have an advocate throughout the investigation process, and to promptly learn the outcome of the investigation. At Cal Poly, the Safer organization does a great job of training students and staff members to serve as advocates.

Either party has the right to challenge an investigation's outcome within the university and/or to file a complaint with the federal Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights about the university's handling of a case. There is also a timeliness requirement to ensure that cases are investigated within a reasonable amount of time.

The university must provide support and accommodations to anyone making a Title IX complaint, which may include changing dorm assignments, changing classes, allowing for a leave of absence, or honoring any other reasonable request from the complainant.

Now imagine that you are responsible for investigating these complaints. After receiving extensive, trauma-informed training on both the university's internal policies and practices, and investigative techniques in general, you will probably be faced with some or all of the following:

• Complaints filed months or even years after the alleged offense (common among sexual trauma survivors).

• Complainants and accused parties who give you incomplete witness lists, at times omitting critical witnesses, out of embarrassment or fear of being undermined by alternate accounts of the events.

• Pressure from parents, friends, and others to reach a specific conclusion, and sometimes to impose a specific sanction.

• Witnesses (including parties to the complaint) who can't remember key facts or events due to intoxication.

• Witnesses who discuss the case and potentially contaminate other witnesses' testimony, despite being asked to maintain confidentiality to protect the integrity of the investigation. While it's understandable that people want to support each other and process what's going on, this can interfere with the investigator's task of getting each person's account of the events without being influenced by what they've heard from others.

• Complainants who change their minds about proceeding and stop cooperating with the investigation (again, common among sexual trauma survivors who want to move on with their lives and stop reliving a painful experience).

• Witnesses who participate in retaliation against the complainant, including shunning the complainant (another reason people may stop cooperating with an investigation).

• Stories published in the media that tell one side of the story and leave out important facts, while campus officials are required to maintain confidentiality and often cannot comment on inaccuracies.

Some observers say that universities should not be in the business of investigating sexual violence at all and believe that they should be handled solely by the criminal justice system. Aside from the fact that this runs counter to federal law (the aforementioned Title IX), universities must be involved because many of those affected decide not to report the matter to law enforcement and rely on campus administrations to investigate the cases as student conduct violations as well as to provide critical support services.

In my experience, the people who investigate and adjudicate Title IX complaints are committed to doing their jobs as fairly, thoroughly, and quickly as possible. They face an almost impossible job, one in which they know that no matter what they find, one side will always be unhappy.

Despite this fact, they work tirelessly to find the truth and bring about a resolution, because they truly care about ending sexual violence and helping students. Δ

Martha Cody is the retired Title IX coordinator for Cal Poly. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com. Write a letter to the editor for publication and email it to letters@newtimesslo.com.


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