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Sexual Misconduct and Gender-based Violence Policy

I. Policy [ 1 ]

I. Sexual misconduct policy 

Members of the Vassar College community, guests, and visitors have the right to be free from sexual violence. Vassar College believes in a zero tolerance policy for gender-based sexual misconduct, and the college is committed to fostering a community that promotes the prompt reporting of sexual misconduct and timely and fair resolution of sexual misconduct complaints. The expectations of our community regarding sexual misconduct can be summarized as follows: In order for individuals to engage in sexual activity of any type with each other, there must be clear, knowing, and voluntary consent prior to and during sexual activity. This policy has been developed to reaffirm these principles and to provide recourse for those individuals whose rights have been violated. This policy is intended to define community expectations and to establish a mechanism for determining when those expectations have been violated. 

Sexual misconduct offenses include, but are not limited to, sexual harassment (see Policy Against Discrimination and Harassment), non-consensual sexual contact (or attempts to commit same), non-consensual sexual intercourse (or attempts to commit same), and sexual exploitation. Use of alcohol or other drugs will never function as a defense to a violation of this policy. The college will consider the concerns and rights of both the reporting individual and the accused. 

1 Adapted from the ATIXA Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct Model Policy © 2011. National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM) & Association of Title IXAdministrators (ATIXA).

A. Definitions

Sexual Harassment: Engaging in unwelcome gender-based verbal or physical conduct that is so sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that it unreasonably interferes with, limits, or deprives someone of the ability to participate in or benefit from the college’s educational program or activities or employment benefits or opportunities. It may involve harassment of women by men, harassment of men by women, and harassment between persons of the same sex. The unwelcome behavior may be based on power differentials (quid pro quo), the creation of a hostile environment, or retaliation. The college’s policy on sexual misconduct may also apply when sexual harassment involves physical contact. Examples of sexual harassment may include, but are not limited to: 

  1. Egregious, unwanted sexual attention or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature; 
  2. Implied or overt threats of punitive action, a result of rejection of sexual advances; 
  3. Conditioning a benefit on an individual’s acceding to sexual advances; 
  4. Unwelcome, sexually explicit messages, statements, or materials; 
  5. Attempting to coerce an unwilling person into a romantic or sexual relationship; 
  6. Sexual violence; 
  7. Intimate partner violence; 
  8. Stalking; including cyberstalking; 
  9. Gender-based bullying.

Non-Consensual Sexual Contact is any intentional sexual touching, however slight, with any object, by a person upon a person, that is without consent and/or by force. Sexual contact includes intentional contact with the breasts, buttocks, groin, or genitals, or touching another with any of these body parts, or making another touch you or themselves with or on any of these body parts; any intentional bodily contact in a sexual manner, though not involving contact with/of/by breasts, buttocks, groin, genitals, mouth or other orifice. 

Non-Consensual Sexual Intercourse is any sexual intercourse, however slight, with any object, by a person upon a person, that is without consent and/or by force. Intercourse includes vaginal penetration by a penis, object, tongue, or finger, anal penetration by a penis, object, tongue, or finger, and oral copulation (mouth to genital contact or genital to mouth contact), no matter how slight the penetration
or contact. 

Sexual Exploitation occurs when a person takes non-consensual or abusive sexual advantage of another for her/his own advantage or benefit, or to benefit or advantage anyone other than the one being exploited, and that behavior does not otherwise constitute one of other sexual misconduct offenses. Examples of sexual exploitation include, but are not limited to: 

  1. Invasion of sexual privacy; 
  2. Prostituting another person; 
  3. Non-consensual taking of pictures, video recording, and/or audio recording of a sexual activity; 
  4. Non-consensual distribution of pictures, video recording, audio recording, or live-streaming of a sexual activity; 
  5. Allowing third parties to observe sexual activities without consent; 
  6. Engaging in voyeurism; 
  7. Knowingly transmitting an STI or HIV to another person; 
  8. Exposing one’s genitals in non-consensual circumstances; 
  9. Inducing another to expose their genitals; 
  10. Sexually-based stalking and/or bullying may also be forms of sexual exploitation. 
B. Additional Applicable Definitions 

Affirmative consent is a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity. Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent. The definition of consent does not vary based upon a participant’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

  1. Consent to any sexual act or prior consensual sexual activity between or with any party does not necessarily constitute consent to any other sexual act. Consent is required regardless of whether the person initiating the act is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Consent may be initially given but withdrawn at any time.
  2. Consent cannot be given when a person is incapacitated, which occurs when an individual lacks the ability to knowingly choose to participate in sexual activity.
  3. Consent cannot be given when it is the result of any coercion, intimidation, force, or threat of harm. When consent is withdrawn or can no longer be given, sexual activity must stop.
  4. In order to give effective consent, one must be of legal age; New York State defines 17 years as of legal age.

Incapacitation may be caused by the lack of consciousness or being asleep, being involuntarily restrained, or if an individual otherwise cannot consent. Depending on the degree of intoxication, someone who is under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicants may be incapacitated and therefore unable to consent. 

Force is the use of physical violence and/or imposing on someone physically to gain sexual access. Force also includes threats, intimidation (implied threats), and coercion that overcome resistance or produce consent. The presence of force is not demonstrated by the absence of resistance. Sexual activity that is forced is by definition non-consensual, but non-consensual sexual activity is not by definition forced. 

  1. There is no requirement that a person resist a sexual advance or request, but resistance is a clear demonstration of non-consent. 
  2. The use of force is not “worse” than the subjective experience of violation of someone who has experienced sexual contact or intercourse without consent. 
  3. The use of physical force constitutes a stand-alone, non-sexual misconduct offense as well, and it is the college’s expectation that those who use physical force (assault, restricting movement or activity, battery, etc.) would face not just the sexual misconduct charge, but also charges under the College Regulations for the additional assaultive behavior. 

Coercion is unreasonable pressure for sexual activity. 

  1. Coercing someone into sexual activity is comparable to physically forcing someone into a sexual activity. 
  2. Coercive behavior differs from seductive behavior based on the type of pressure someone uses to obtain consent from another. 
  3. When someone makes clear that they do not want to engage in sex or a sexual activity, that they want to stop, or that they do not want to go past a certain point of sexual interaction, continued pressure beyond that point can be coercive. 

For additional state and federal definitions, refer to Part I.

C. Sanction Statement 

The college reserves the right to take whatever measures it deems necessary in response to an allegation of sexual misconduct in order to protect students’ rights and personal safety. Such measures include, but are not limited to, modification of living arrangements, no contact orders, and interim suspension from campus pending a hearing. When a charge of sexual misconduct is formally processed, and a respondent is found to have violated this policy, serious sanctions will be used to reasonably ensure that such actions are never repeated. Not all forms of sexual misconduct will be deemed to be equally serious offenses, and the college reserves the right to impose different sanctions, ranging from verbal warning to expulsion, depending on the severity of the offense. The college also reserves the right to broaden or lessen any range of recommended sanctions in the case of serious mitigating circumstances or egregiously offensive behavior. Neither the initial hearing body nor any appeals body or officer will deviate from the range of recommended sanctions unless compelling justification exists to do so. 

  1. Any student found responsible for violating the Sexual Misconduct Policy for non-consensual sexual contact (where no intercourse has occurred) will likely receive a sanction ranging from probation to expulsion, depending on the severity of the incident, and taking into account any concurrent or previous college regulations violations. 
  2. Any student found responsible for violating the Sexual Misconduct Policy for non-consensual or forced sexual intercourse will likely face a recommended sanction of suspension or expulsion, and taking into account any concurrent or previous college regulations violations. 
  3. Any student found responsible for violating the Sexual Misconduct Policy for sexual exploitation or sexual harassment will likely receive a recommended sanction ranging from warning to expulsion, depending on the severity of the incident, and taking into account any concurrent or previous college regulations violations. 

II. Dating/Domestic Violence 

The purpose of Vassar College’s Dating/Domestic Violence policy is to define dating/domestic violence and to outline the student conduct process for charges of relationship abuse. All students, faculty, administrators, and staff are subject to this policy. 

Vassar College is a residential educational community bound by common standards of conduct and adherence to its educational missions. Dating/domestic violence interferes with the College’s educational mission and with students’ aspirations and abilities, individually and collectively by: 

  1. Causing emotional and/or physical harm to community members; 
  2. Contributing to an atmosphere of fear; 
  3. Offending the dignity and violating the autonomy of community members; and
  4. Disrupting the academic progress of affected community members. 
A. Definitions

Dating/domestic violence is a progressive and/or persistent pattern of abusive behaviors that are perpetrated by the abuser to gain and maintain power and control over the victim. Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional/verbal, and/or economical. This includes (but not limited to) any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone. Dating/domestic violence not only affects those who are abused, but also has a substantial effect on family members, friends, co-workers, other witnesses, and the community at large. 

Dating/domestic violence can occur in straight/heterosexual relationships, same-sex/gender relationships, marriages, cohabitation relationships, or dating and in intimate relationships that involve an emotional attachment. This also includes former intimate partners. 

Dating/domestic violence can impact people regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. Dating/domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. 

Domestic violence is a crime of violence committed by: 

  1. A current or former spouse of the victim; 
  2. A person with whom the victim shares a child in common;
  3. A person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse; 
  4. A person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction receiving grant monies; 
  5. Any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction. 

Dating violence is a crime of violence committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim. The existence of such a relationship may include the consideration of the following factors: 

  1. Length of the relationship; 
  2. Type of relationship; 
  3. Frequency of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship.
B. Additional Applicable Definitions

Emotional/Verbal Abuse is persistent abuse that undermines an individual’s sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem. This may include, but is not limited to con¬stant criticism, diminishing one’s abilities, name-calling, and/or damaging one’s rela¬tionship with her or his friends and/or family. 

Psychological Abuse is abuse that would cause fear in a reasonable person. This includes but it not limited to intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; threatening to disclose partners orien¬tation, destruction of pets and property; and isolating from family, friends, or school and/or work. 

Economic Abuse is intending to make or attempting to make an individual financially dependent on their partner. This includes but is not limited to maintain¬ing control over financial resources, withholding one’s access to money, or forbidding attendance at school, employment or other activities. 

Physical Abuse is physical harm by partner. This includes but is not limited to hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair-pulling, spitting, physi¬cal restraint and/or restricting breathing. Physical abuse may also include denying a partner medical care or coercing use of alcohol and/or other drugs, touching in ways that make a person uncomfortable, and persistent treatment of the victim and other people as objects via actions and remarks. 

Sexual Abuse involves violating an individual’s autonomy over her/ his body. Sexual abuse may include, but is not limited to, coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior, forcing the partner to dress in a sexually explicit way, forcing to watch or simulate pornography, rape, or accusing the victim of sexual activity with others.

III. Gender-based Stalking

Students who think they are being stalked are encouraged to access the resources of the Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention (SAVP) program and are entitled to the same rights as outlined in Part K, II N. All incidents of stalking will be taken seriously. When the stalker is anonymous, the college will investigate as thoroughly as possible using all available resources. 

A. Definitions

Stalking occurs when a person engages in a course of conduct directed toward another person and knows or should reasonably know that such conduct is likely to alarm, harass, or cause reasonable fear of harm or injury in that person, or in a third party. The feared harm of injury may be to physical, emotional, or mental health, personal safety, property, education, or employment. Stalking may include, but is not limited to, unwanted visual or physical proximity to a person, repeatedly conveying oral or written threats, extorting money or valuables, implicitly threatening physical conduct, or any combination of these behaviors directed at or toward a person. All incidents of stalking will be taken seriously. When the stalker is anonymous, the college will investigate as thoroughly as possible using all available resources. The following are some examples of stalking type behavior:

  1. Unwelcome communication, including, but not limited to: face-to-face, telephone, voice message, electronic mail, written letter, and/or contact; unwelcome gifts or flowers, etc.
  2. Threatening or obscene gestures
  3. Surveillance
  4. Trespassing
  5. Vandalism
  6. “Peeping-tommery” 
  7. Voyeurism 
  8. Unwelcome touching or physical contact
  9. Gaining unauthorized access to personal, medical, financial, and/or other identifying information, including, but not limited to: access by computer network, mail, telephone, or written communication

Cyber-stalking is an extension of the physical form of stalking where electronic media such as the internet, pagers, cell phones, or other similar devices are used to pursue, harass or to make unwanted contact with another person in an unsolicited fashion and will not be tolerated. Some examples of cyber-stalking include but are not limited to: unwanted/unsolicited emails or instant messages, disturbing messages on online bulletin boards, unsolicited communications about a person, their family, friends, or co-workers, or sending/posting disturbing messages with another username.

IV. Title IX Reporting Policy for Gender-based Discrimination and Sexual Misconduct 

Different people on campus have different reporting responsibilities and different abilities to maintain confidentiality, depending on their roles at the college and upon college policy, when they receive a report of gender-based discrimination involving a student. Gender-based discrimination is an umbrella for a wide range of behaviors that falls under that descriptor, which includes sexual assault, other forms of sexual misconduct, and sexual harassment. At Vassar, some individuals and campus resources can offer confidentiality while others have specific obligations to respond when they receive a report of a crime or a campus policy violation. Most resources on campus fall in the middle of these two extremes. Neither the college nor the law requires them to divulge private information that is shared with them except in certain circumstances, some of which are described below. Even offices and employees who cannot guarantee confidentiality will maintain your privacy to the greatest extent possible. The information you provide to a non-confidential resource will be relayed only as necessary for the Title IX Coordinator to investigate and/or seek resolution.

A. To Report Confidentially 

If a student desires that details of the incident be kept confidential, they should speak with on-campus or off-campus mental health counselors, medical providers, or members of the clergy. These persons are not required to disclose information unless there is a concern for imminent health and safety of the student or others. Students may also seek confidential support from off-campus resources, such as a rape crisis
center counselor. 

On-Campus Resources for Students
Counseling Service, (845) 437-5700
Health Services, (845) 437-5800
CARES, (845) 437-7333 

Off-Campus Resources for Students
24 Hour Rape Crisis Hotline, (845) 452-7272 

B. Non-Confidential Reporting Options 

In accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, all colleges and universities must have a designated Title IX coordinator who is responsible for ensuring institutional compliance with state and federal nondiscrimination and harassment laws. Under Title IX, colleges and universities must also clearly articulate who are “responsible employees” in response to a notice of gender-based discrimination (i.e., sexual harassment, sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct) involving students. The director of equal opportunity in the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action is Vassar’s designated Title IX coordinator. 

Reporting an incident of sexual misconduct to the Title IX of coordinator ficer or a “responsible employee” is official notice to the institution. Students have the right and can expect to have incidents of gender-based discrimination to be taken seriously by the institution when formally reported, and to have those incidents investigated and properly resolved through administrative procedures. All “responsible employees” must report the incident to the director of equal opportunity/Title IX coordinator, who will determine the most appropriate course of action to ensure a prompt and equitable response. Formal reporting means that only people who need to know will be told, and information will be shared only as necessary with investigators, witnesses, and the accused individual. 

The College will seek consent from reporting individuals prior to conducting an investigation. Declining to consent to an investigation shall be honored unless the College determines in good faith that failure to investigate does not adequately mitigate a potential risk of harm to the reporting individual or other members of the community. Honoring such a request may limit the institution’s ability to meaningfully investigate and pursue conduct action against an accused individual. Factors used to determine whether to honor such a request include, but are not limited to: a. Whether the accused has a history of violent behavior or is a repeat offender; b. Whether the incident represents escalation in unlawful conduct on behalf of the accused from previously noted behavior; c. The increased risk that the accused will commit additional acts of violence; d. Whether the accused used a weapon or force; e. Whether the reporting individual is a minor; and f. Whether the institution possesses other means to obtain evidence such as security footage, and whether available information reveals a pattern of perpetration at a given location or by a particular group.

At Vassar College, the following officers and individuals are designated as “responsible employees”: 

  1. President 
  2. Senior officers (dean of the faculty, dean of the college, dean of strategic planning and academic resources, vice president for communications, vice president for alumnae/i affairs and development, and vice president for finance and administration 
  3. Director of equal opportunity/Title IX coordinator and faculty director of affirmative action 
  4. Safety and Security Office personnel
  5. Human resources administrators 
  6. Other deans, associate deans and administrators with supervisory responsibilities 
  7. Student conduct administrators 
  8. Residential life professional staff 
  9. Academic department chairs and program directors 
  10. Faculty and other employees supervising overnight domestic or international student trips 

Those wishing to file a formal complaint alleging non-consensual intercourse, non-consensual contact, sexual exploitation, dating/domestic violence and/or stalking should contact the Director of EOAA/Title IX Coordinator. When the accused in a student, refer to Part G for the specific college regulations and Part K, section II-G for information about Title IX hearing process. When the accused is a member of the faculty, administration, or staff, refer to Part E, section III- B for that grievance process.

C. Reporting to Those Who Can Maintain the Privacy of What You Share 

A student may seek assistance from campus resources without starting a formal process that is beyond her or his control, or violates her or his privacy. These resources include those without supervisory responsibility or institutional authority to address sexual misconduct, including SART members, house fellows, faculty members who are not department chairs or program directors, admissions officers, student activities personnel, student fellows, and many others. Neither the college nor the law requires them to divulge private identifying information except in certain circumstances as described below. If a student is unsure of someone’s duties and ability to maintain your privacy, he or she should ask them before they disclose any details of the incident. Some of these resources may need to share incident reports with their supervisors, but they will not share any personally identifiable information about the student’s report unless he or she gives permission, except in the rare event that the incident reveals an imminent need to protect the student or other members of the community. If any personally identifiable information must be shared, the student will be informed, and it will only be shared as necessary with as few people as possible, and all efforts will be made to protect the student’s privacy. 

D. Reporting Obligations under the Clery Act 

Certain campus officials also have a duty to report sexual assault and other crimes for federal statistical reporting purposes (Clery Act). All personally identifiable information is kept confidential, but statistical information must be passed along to campus law enforcement regarding the type of incident and its general location (on-or off-campus, in the surrounding area, but no addresses are given) for publication in the annual Campus Security Report. This report helps to provide the community with a clear picture of the extent and nature of campus crime, to ensure greater community safety. Mandated federal reporters include: student conduct administrators, safety and security personnel, coaches, athletic directors, residence life staff, student activities staff, human resources staff, advisors to student organizations, and “any other official with significant responsibility for student and campus activities.” The information to be shared includes the date, the location of the incident (using Clery location categories), and the Clery crime category. This reporting protects the identity of the victim and may be done anonymously. 

All Clery reports of sexual assault and other crimes should be reported to Safety and Security, (845) 437-7333, http://security.vassar.edu/forms/report/. 

Blind incident reports can also be filed with the Sexual Assault Violence Prevention Program (SAVP) or with a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) advisor. 

E. Federal Timely Warning Reporting Obligations 

Safety and Security must issue immediate timely warnings for incidents reported to them that are confirmed to pose a substantial threat of bodily harm or danger to members of the campus community. The college will make every effort to ensure that a victim’s name and other identifying information is not disclosed, while still providing enough information for community members to make safety decisions in light of the danger. The reporters for timely warning purposes are exactly the same as detailed at the end of the above paragraph. 

II. Policy on consensual relationships between faculty and students

  1. Background The College recognizes that adults, including young adults, may make choices regarding personal relationships. However, a romantic or sexual relationship between a faculty member and a student jeopardizes both the student’s academic program and the learning environment for other students and raises serious concerns regarding unequal status and power, validity of consent, conflicts of interest, and preferential treatment. For these reasons, a faculty member’s professional responsibilities are incompatible with a sexual or romantic relationship with a student. Faculty members engaging in such relationships put themselves, students, the College, and its educational mission at risk. In addition to disciplinary action by the College, a faculty member who engages in a romantic or sexual relationship with a student risks loss of professional standing with colleagues and students, allegations and charges of sexual harassment, and legal liability.
  2. Policy Members of the faculty are prohibited from pursuing or engaging in a romantic relationship or sexual relations with any current Vassar student. The prohibition is year round and includes students participating in off campus or summer programs and students on leave.
  3. Exemptions.The Dean of the Faculty grants exemptions from this policy under reasonable circumstances. An automatic exemption to this policy applies when the spouse or domestic partner of a faculty member enrolls as a student. When an exemption is made, the Dean of the Faculty notifies the EOAA office and makes arrangements, if necessary, to minimize any potential conflicts of interest.
  4. Investigation Potential violations of this policy are referred to the EOAA office, which investigates (using the process described for initial investigations in the policy against discrimination and harassment) and renders a determination to the Dean of the Faculty. The standard of proof is clear and convincing evidence of a violation. If necessary, the EOAA office recommends to the Dean of the Faculty alternative arrangements for supervision, evaluation, teaching, grading or advising.
  5. Disciplinary action A faculty member found to have violated this policy is subject to disciplinary action, up to and including leave without pay or termination of employment. The Dean of the Faculty determines and assigns the appropriate disciplinary actions. 

    If the Dean of the Faculty recommends that the President consider the termination of a faculty member’s employment before the expiration of his or her contract or when the faculty member has indeterminate tenure, the Governance provisions and process for Dismissal for Cause (5.B.II.2.b & d) continue to apply and are followed.
  6. Appeal A faculty member may appeal a determination that he or she violated this policy to the faculty Appeal Committee. The only grounds for appeal are:
    1. Procedural error(s) affected the outcome of the investigation (e.g., bias or prejudice or failure to consider all the evidence).
    2. New evidence unavailable at the time of the original investigation could have altered the outcome of the investigation (a summary of this new evidence and its potential impact must be presented to the Appeal Committee).
    3. The disciplinary actions taken are disproportionate to the severity of the violation.
    4. A reasonable exemption to the policy should have been granted.
    After consideration, the Appeal Committee may:
    1. Determine that a procedural error that could have affected the outcome of the investigation occurred. In this case, the Appeal Committee normally returns the investigation to the original investigator; however, if it determines the original investigator cannot address the procedural error, the Appeal Committee requires a new investigation by a new investigator;
    2. Determine that the new evidence should be considered and return the investigation to the original investigator for reconsideration;
    3. Determine that the disciplinary actions imposed are disproportionate to the severity of the violation and ask the Dean of the Faculty to reconsider them;
    4. Determine that a reasonable exemption should have been granted to the faculty member and ask the Dean of the Faculty to grant the exemption.
    5. Deny the appeal. In the case of (c) and (d), if the Appeal Committee believes the subsequent reconsideration by Dean of the Faculty has not adequately addressed its concerns, then the Appeal Committee may bring the matter to the President, whose decision is final.
  7. Harassment This policy addresses consensual relationships only. Non-consensual relationships are covered under the Policy against Discrimination and Harassment. Nothing in this policy precludes the enforcement of the college’s Policy Against Discrimination or Harassment. 

(adopted by the faculty March 11, 2015)