Justice Department Releases Investigative Findings on University of New Mexico’s Response to Sexual Assault Allegations
The Justice Department today announced that according to its comprehensive investigation, the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) handling of reports by students of sexual harassment – including sexual assault – fail to comply with federal law. The Justice Department delivered a letter setting forth these findings to President Robert G. Frank of UNM this morning.
The investigation was launched on Dec. 5, 2014, in response to complaints from multiple students alleging that UNM did not adequately respond to their reports of sexual assault. It was conducted under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, both of which prohibit sex discrimination in education programs. The investigation examined UNM’s policies and practices for preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment, as well as for investigating and responding to student complaints of sexual assault, sexual harassment and retaliation.
The investigation found that although UNM had strengthened its response to sexual harassment and sexual assault over the past year, it remains out of compliance with Title IX and Title IV in key respects. The department specifically found that students, faculty and staff lacked basic understanding about reporting options, duties and obligations, as well as where to turn for help. The investigation also found significant gaps in UNM’s procedures, training and practices for investigating and resolving allegations of sexual assault and harassment, resulting in a grievance process that complainants and respondents alike described as confusing, distressing and rife with delays. More generally, in focus groups and interviews, many UNM students expressed reluctance to report sexual assault to UNM because they lacked confidence in the school’s response.
The department also found that students who have experienced harassment and assault have difficulty accessing services and supports. Without appropriate supports in place, some of these students experienced severe and lasting educational impacts, including suspending their academic coursework, dropping out of extracurricular activities, losing scholarships and even withdrawing from UNM.
The department found that UNM must take the following measures to fully comply with these laws:
- Provide comprehensive and effective training to all students, faculty and staff that gives notice of UNM’s prohibition on sexual harassment, including sexual assault; information about reporting options, duties and obligations; details on where to go for assistance; and information on grievance procedures and potential outcomes;
- Revise UNM’s policies, procedures and investigative practices to provide a grievance procedure that ensures prompt and equitable resolution of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations;
- Adequately investigate or respond to all allegations by students who have alleged sexual assault or sexual harassment, including allegations of retaliation for reporting sexual assault or sexual harassment;
- Take prompt and effective steps to eliminate a hostile environment, prevent its reoccurrence and address its effects; and
- Ensure that the individuals designated to coordinate Title IX efforts receive adequate training and coordinate these efforts effectively.
“Our findings reveal how a flawed system for responding to sexual assault fails all those involved – from victims seeking adequate protection, to accused students demanding fair hearings, to faculty looking for clear instruction,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the department’s Civil Rights Division. “These failures diminish educational opportunities and threaten community confidence in the integrity and fairness of the university’s policies and practices. The Justice Department commends UNM officials for starting to implement key changes in a number of areas, and we look forward to working closely with them to expand and enhance these early steps of progress.”
“Campus sexual assault and sexual harassment are civil rights issues,” said U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez of the District of New Mexico. “They are primarily perpetrated against women and undermine their basic rights. When perpetuated against students, sexual assault and sexual harassment deny them the right to live and learn in a safe educational environment. Colleges and universities are obligated to stop and prevent sexual violence against their students and to respond effectively when they receive reports of sexual assault. We appreciate the university’s continuing efforts to address the serious deficiencies identified by our investigation so that we can improve the safety of women and other students and reduce barriers in education.”
UNM cooperated fully with the department’s investigation, and has committed to continue to cooperate with the department to timely resolve these findings under mutually agreeable terms that will provide accountability to the public and accomplish the remedial measures within a fixed period of time.
The investigation was conducted jointly by the Civil Rights Division’s Educational Opportunities Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of New Mexico. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt. Additional information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of New Mexico is available on its website at www.justice.gov/usao/nm.
The enforcement of Title IV and Title IX are top priorities of the Civil Rights Division. For more information about the administration’s efforts on prevention and response to sexual assault and sexual harassment on college and university campuses, please visit www.notalone.gov.