Task force report details recommendations for halting sexual misconduct

January 29, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State sexual assault and sexual harassment task force, charged by President Eric Barron to elevate Penn State as a national leader in addressing sexual misconduct, has delivered its final report and made it available online today (Jan. 29). With a comprehensive set of 18 recommendations, the report notes the University needs a better-defined message surrounding sexual misconduct and a designated stand-alone office dedicated to the issue.

The report with more than 200 pages of resource materials, looks at not only topics pertaining to Penn State students, but also acknowledges the response role that Penn State employees and the Pennsylvania communities in which Penn State has a campus can play in curbing sexual violence and misconduct.

The President's Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment, a 17-member group, acknowledged the challenging scope of the problem of sexual violence on campuses nationally, and recommended that Penn State leadership commit to combatting sexual misconduct and to engaging all employees and students in a direct call to action.

“President Barron challenged the task force to build on the strength of the University’s existing programs and services by developing recommendations that should inspire students, faculty and staff alike to do even more in response to sexual misconduct within our communities,” said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs and chair of the task force. “We believe we have done so, and that Penn State’s commitment to this purpose will prove exceptional.

"Every member of our University community, particularly our students, deserve no less than our very best intention and effort. The task force is confident that Penn State is poised to lead in the struggle to combat this deeply troubling issue in higher education and beyond, and we are grateful for President Barron’s determination that we do.”

The report, written by students, faculty and staff with relevant expertise who worked over approximately five months on the issue, describes the intensive review process and provides a historical summary of the University's efforts to curb sexual violence and harassment. A subsequent review and assessment of existing efforts across the University notes offices, programs and services that are currently available to Penn State students and employees related to these issues.

One section of the report attempts to explain the complicated, often-changing environment surrounding federal and state political, legal and regulatory compliance and other matters for which Penn State is held responsible. The report also notes that terminology and policies pertaining to sexual misconduct are often misunderstood or unfamiliar.

"It is not easy to define the scope of the problem, either nationally or at Penn State. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in five women in the United States will be raped in her lifetime, and 63 percent of American women have experienced some form of sexual violence,” the report states. “In the majority of cases, the assault was committed by someone the woman knew. And those numbers fail to take account of the men sexually assaulted in this country, estimated to be 10 percent of the total assaults. What we know and agree must change is that the number of individuals physically, mentally, and emotionally harmed by sexual misconduct in our campus communities is too many.”

Task force members also did not shy away from conversations about the misuse of alcohol and its role in sexual misconduct and violence, suggesting an educational program that focuses on how various life issues impact and interact with one another.

The report acknowledges that on Penn State’s 24 campuses — despite the University’s longstanding delivery of programs by several units ranging from law enforcement to Residence Life, and from University Health Services and the Center for Women Students — a lack of both central coordination and unified messaging often results in initiatives competing for awareness and a “muddling” of messages. In fact, the task force found that from 2010-2013, the University Park campus offered 273 educational programs on sexual assault, sexual harassment and domestic or relationship violence, and another 415 programs were conducted at other Penn State campuses.

Through its recommendations, the report advocates for national best practices. The 18 recommended items are: 

  • Create a new, stand-alone position to coordinate Title IX goals and initiatives, along with accompanying staff, including an investigator, a prevention and education coordinator, and a deputy coordinator for the Commonwealth Campuses, as well as other staff and funding sufficient to effectively manage the many obligations at all Penn State locations and ensure the University’s national leadership on this front; 
  • Designate each University employee as either “confidential” or “responsible” in relation to obligations to respond to disclosures of sexual misconduct. This recommendation would require the majority of Penn State employees to report sexual misconduct when they become aware of it;
  • Require all employees to complete annual mandatory training, to understand the issues involved in sexual misconduct, know the available campus and community resources, and honor their reporting responsibilities;
  • Require all advocates, clinicians and other University employees working directly with victims of sexual assault to receive training on services for male victims, international students, students victimized by same-sex interactions, and students of color, and that focused attention be given to educational prevention programs aimed at particular populations, such as fraternity and sorority members and athletes;
  • Move Office of Student Conduct away from its traditional hearing process and embrace instead an investigative model for resolving sexual misconduct cases;
  • Administer a climate survey this spring to better understand the scope and nature of the problem and conduct regular surveys on sexual assault in successive years; 

  • Allocate required resources at campus locations other than University Park to establish the full complement of victim support services necessary in a model institution;
  • Launch initiative to encourage members of the University community to intervene in response to sexual and other misconduct;
  • Allocate resources to ensure all programs and services that target the issue of sexual misconduct be appropriately, effectively and regularly assessed and evaluated for their efficacy, compliance, relevance and efficiency; and
  • Publicly note and celebrate on a designated day the University’s commitment to being a national leader in addressing these issues and ensuring that its students and employees are fully engaged in the effort; 
  • Maintain an online system for anonymous reporting of sexual misconduct; Replace current sexual assault hotline with a more effective means for receiving reports;
  • Establish a Title IX review panel and associated written guidelines to assist University authorities in determining the proper course of action when a victim or reporter requests confidentiality, does not want a case investigated, or chooses to withdraw from participation in the process after a report has been made;
  • University should pursue memorandums of understanding with police departments serving Penn State campuses, where such MOUs do not already exist, and review any MOUs that do exist to ensure they include appropriate references to responsibilities of law enforcement agencies for managing sexual misconduct cases. The Task Force also recommends consideration of similar MOUs between relevant University administrative entities and sexual assault service providers in the communities where University campuses are located;
  • Analyze sanctions for sexual misconduct issued through the student conduct process to determine whether the consequences match the offenses, and, if possible, how many of these cases might have benefited from the use of a restorative justice approach;
  • The Coalition to Address Relationship and Sexual Violence (CARSV) should be convened more often; make every reasonable effort to increase or strengthen the various partnerships between University Park services and related local providers in the State College area, as well as similar relationships existing between the Commonwealth Campuses and services in the communities they inhabit;
  • Implement various educational experiences for students that reflect their evolving developmental needs during the course of their college experience, including a required course for all first-year students that explores issues of student well-being and safety, with an emphasis on building positive relationships and preventing sexual misconduct and alcohol misuse;
  • Consider annual or semi-annual release of aggregate data on sexual misconduct at the University, beyond the data included in the annual Clery Act report; and
  • Undertake a comprehensive review of all policies and procedures that are relevant to the issues of sexual violence and sexual harassment; update and clarify existing policies, as well as incorporate elements of the Task Force recommendations that call for new policies or procedures.

“The matters of sexual assault, as well as sexual violence and misconduct that students and members of our faculty and staff may face, are of the utmost significance. This thorough account and advisement by the task force is a highly informative document that I am grateful to receive,” Barron said. “Although some recommendations seem highly prudent and ready to implement — such as adding a dedicated Title IX office and issuing a University-wide climate survey — I will take the time to consider how to proceed on all recommendations.

“We want Penn State’s campuses to be safe, welcoming environments,” Barron added. “The University is prepared to do its part to lead the way in addressing sexual violence within the Commonwealth and in American higher education.”

Barron is expected to respond to the report, providing his plan to move accepted recommendations forward, during the week of Feb. 16. Currently, the president is sharing the report with his senior leadership team gaining input, as well as formalizing a plan to move forward.

The full report is available online at http://www.psu.edu/ur/2014/Task_Force_final_report.pdf, along with the cover memo to Dr. Barron: http://www.psu.edu/ur/2014/Task_Force_report_cover_letter.pdf

  • Damon Sims and Mark Scolforo

    Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs at Penn State, fielded questions from AP reporter Mark Scolforo on Jan. 28 regarding the University's Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment.

    IMAGE: Patrick Mansell

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 19, 2017