University silent on new federal sexual assault guidelines

University officials are still reviewing how new sexual assault guidelines will affect GW policies, three weeks after the Department of Education issued a letter to schools explaining their obligations under the gender equality law Title IX.

Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a 19-page “Dear Colleague” letter under the umbrella of Title IX April 4, calling for schools to swiftly respond to potential instances of sexual assault and take more steps to prevent their occurrences. Title IX rules apply to all schools that receive federal funding.

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said Friday GW is in the process of reviewing the letter.

Sherrard declined to comment further on potential policy changes until the review’s completion, adding that the University will decide how to apply the guidelines and then disclose that information to the GW community.

“The University takes seriously the issue of sexual violence among members of its community and takes appropriate steps to investigate and adjudicate complaints it receives involving such conduct in a manner intended to safeguard the interests of complainants and respondents,” Sherrard said.

A two-page fact sheet issued by the federal government outlines the major steps a school must take upon receiving reports of sexual assault, including immediately opening an investigation into the issue and determining if a criminal investigation is appropriate.

The letter also highlights education as key in handling sexual assaults, stressing the need to educate students on the school’s policies to make them more comfortable

reporting sexual assaults.

Schools are obligated to conduct investigations of potential instances of sexual assault or harassment, even if a police investigation is occurring, according to the guidance letter, because outside criminal investigations might not accurately determine if the incident violated Title IX.

Assistant Dean of Students and Head of Student Judicial Services Tara Pereira declined to comment on the current relationship between University and Metropolitan Police Department investigations into reported incidents of sexual assault.

Pereira also declined to comment on how the letter’s recommendation that schools take “proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment and violence” would be implemented at GW.

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