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Editorial: UNM right to fast track sex-assault investigations

Investigations into allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault involving University of New Mexico students and employees will move at a faster pace.

The U.S. Department of Justice released a report earlier this year criticizing what it called sometimes confusing policies at UNM that could discourage students from reporting sex-related offenses. It also criticized UNM for failing to publicize the processes for reporting and singled out UNM’s Office of Equal Opportunity for taking too long to investigate complaints.

Much work already had been done, and the report did credit the university for working to improve its response to sex-related complaints, including revamping policies and creating a student advocacy center for students to confidentially report incidents of sexual assault or harassment. An earlier university-commissioned report, in part, resulted in UNM adopting a new sexual misconduct policy in May 2015.

Prior to the DOJ’s investigation, several high-profile cases spurred some of the changes. In 2013, two students in separate incidents reported they had been groped on campus within the same week. In April 2014, a student alleged two football players and another man had sexually assaulted her off-campus after a party.

Charges were later dismissed, all of the parties have sued UNM and the alleged victim also filed a Title IX report. And UNM is investigating allegations of sexual assault involving the local chapter of the fraternity Sigma Chi.

Reports of sex-related offenses are up nationwide, in part because the U.S. Department of Education has called for better enforcement of Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Law, which says students should be free from gender-based discrimination in education programs or activities that get federal funds. At UNM the number of Title IX sexual assault and sexual harassment reports filed tripled from 2014 to 2015; officials cite increased education and reporting.

New speedier procedures will go into effect for investigations that start after June 15 pending a review of the new guidelines by the office of UNM President Bob Frank.

It’s one of the university’s many jobs to make sure students are reasonably safe, that sex-related complaints are fully investigated and that the rights of both the accusers and the accused are protected. Making that happen in a more timely fashion sends the right message that UNM takes the personal safety of students and employees seriously.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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