A state senator who’s called for greater accountability from Louisiana colleges about sexual misconduct on campuses isn’t pleased with the amount of information administrators are providing.
Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, authored a law last year that requires public two- and four-year schools to report twice annually how they handle power-based violence complaints.
She and other members of the Senate Select Committee on Women and Children received the first report a week ago, and Mizell described it as woefully inadequate.
“There’s a real breakdown between receiving the complaint and taking any action on what’s taken place,” Mizell told the Illuminator in an interview.
State Higher Education Commissioner Kim Hunter Reed presented the report to the committee. It covers rape, assault, stalking, harassment, dating violence, verbal intimidation and inappropriate comments, based on a copy of the report available on the Board of Regents website.
Over the six-month period last year — April 1 through Sept. 30 — there were 52 complaints filed at 17 schools. In almost every case, it is not disclosed whether they were filed by people who say they experienced misconduct and assault, or university staff, who are required to report to school administrators when they hear about or witness power-based violence.
Complainants and respondents are identified by gender. Some 250,000 students are enrolled in Louisiana’s two- and four-year public institutions, which combined have thousands of employees.
Discipline varies or uncertain
People who file power-based violence complaints have the option of having their cases handled through a formal process that can include a hearing with campus officials — and the person they’ve accused, who’s allowed to defend themself. Informal resolutions take place without an official hearing and typically involve mediation, and both parties agreeing with the outcome.
Out of the 52 complaints, seven were handled through a formal process and resulted in “discipline or corrective action,” according to the summary report. Of those seven, one resulted in a suspension.
Morgan Lamandre, executive director of the advocacy group Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR), pointed out several conflicting and confusing pieces of information in the report.
For example, investigations at Delgado Community College found those who’d been accused were found “not responsible” in two separate cases — one involving sexual harassment and the other for inappropriate sexual comments — but each faced sanctions. The person who brought the complaint in the harassment case was given a one-year no-contact order, while “sensitivity training” and “professional development” were recommended to the supervisor who allegedly made the inappropriate remarks.
“If you felt that there was a need for there to be some sort of development or training, then clearly the person did something,” Lamandre said. “So why were they not found responsible? It doesn’t really make sense.”
In another instance, a man at McNeese State University was suspended a year after “disregard, harassment, policies violation and sexual misconduct,” according to the report. In addition to the suspension, he was required to write a letter of apology to the woman who filed the complaint, and he had to undergo one hour of training in both substance abuse and sexual harassment.
The matter was handled through the McNeese Student Code of Conduct process, the report said. The university did not respond to questions regarding how that differs from the Title IX process or whether it adheres to the same Title IX standards required by federal and state law.
An incident of forcible rape at LSU’s Baton Rouge campus appears in the report, and it was resolved through an “informal resolution agreement.” Details on discipline or sanctions were not provided, nor was there any indication that police were involved in the matter.
“I really want to know at what point law enforcement is made aware, because my concern is that, if there are repeat bad actors on campus and there’s no disciplinary action, what are we creating in that environment?” Mizell said.
A second LSU case categorized as sexual assault-forciable rape remains open, with a formal hearing scheduled.
Lamandre was troubled by two sexual harassment complaints at LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, she said. In each instance, the medical school found the claims “did not meet the severe, pervasive, objectively offensive standard” under Title IX, and both were referred to the human resources department.
That two separate complaints were filed on the same day leads Lamandre to believe they involve the same alleged perpetrator. Without additional information, it is unclear whether the harassment that was reported could have been a Title VII violation, she said. That section of federal civil rights law covers sexual discrimination.
Sexual harassment complaints at LSU Eunice and Southern University in Baton Rouge were also referred to the respective campus HR departments, with both cases considered dismissed.
A man at McNeese was placed on one year of probation after being accused of stalking and harassment. Mental health counseling, a no-contact order and a non-disclosure agreement were also part of the sanctions.
The no-contact order concerns Lamandre, who said it’s not clear whether it applies to the person bringing the complaint, or the person who was accused.
Louisiana law doesn’t allow non-disclosure agreements to be part of a settlement that involves state money. Although no money is involved in these outcomes, the possible lack of consistency with state statute is a problem, Lamandre said.
One complaint led to an employee’s dismissal. A man at Grambling State University was terminated in a case that involved sexual harassment.
Southern complaints indicate confusion
Across all schools, the report doesn’t indicate when the decision on any of the 52 complaints was made final, which Lamandre considers another shortcoming.
Southern University had the highest number of complaints with 11, but seven of those were dismissed.
At Southern, four sexual misconduct cases were dismissed because they didn’t fall under campus jurisdiction. Another allegation was determined to fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A dating violence case was closed after the person who brought the complaint initially stopped responding, and the dismissal of a harassment case was referred to Southern’s HR office.
“Southern clearly has some issues regarding people not knowing where the hell they’re supposed to go to file something,” Lamandre said.
Twenty complaints in the report were listed as closed, and 18 have an open status. They are either under investigation, have a formal hearing scheduled or are still “to be determined.”
“I think we really need better data on what open and closed means, just across the board,” Mizell.
The senator said she would consider updates to the reporting law she sponsored last year, although legislators are limited to filing just five bills during sessions in odd-numbered years when the focus is on fiscal matters. Mizell said she might add the changes as part of a proposal she’s planning to introduce on tracking rape kits.
Another option would be to put new reporting standards in a resolution, she said. But if passed, it would not have the force of law.
Lamandre said she intends to approach Mizell about updates to her reporting law. The two have worked together in the past on sexual violence prevention measures.
Both said the opaque report does little to encourage survivors of sexual misconduct to come forward and file complaints, either with campus administrators or police. In either instance, a survivor likely faces a lengthy, emotionally distressing process — with no guarantee there will be consequences for the perpetrator.
“The biggest reason why survivors don’t typically report through any formal reporting processes is because they have a fear that they won’t be believed,” Lamandre said. “And there is fear that going through any kind of process will be more or just as traumatic as the actual assault.”
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