Hopkins fails to log 18 sexual misconduct complaints over last two years due to website issue

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Photo of Gilman Hall at Johns Hopkins University. Photo by callison-burch, via Flickr.

Johns Hopkins University’s office entrusted with investigating sexual misconduct and discrimination complaints says its website “mistakenly blocked” the department from receiving 18 reports of sexual misconduct over the past two years.

A message posted to the Office of Institutional Equity’s website, dated Wednesday, said the errors kept it from receiving two sexual misconduct reports submitted in 2016, two others in 2017 and 14 from this year, running through October.

Officials said they’ve tried to or have contacted everyone who submitted a report that didn’t make it through the website, “and will provide expedited support and services to address any of their concerns immediately.”

They’ve been working with campus security to update crime logs and Clery Act reports, which include the number of confidentially reported sexual assault cases on campus each year. IT staff are working to make sure the website has been fixed.

OIE offered an apology in its statement: “On behalf of the university and the staff of OIE, we are sincerely sorry for this error and for the distress it may have caused. Anyone who takes the step to file a report deserves and should expect timely action and response, and we are taking immediate steps to support those whose reports were mistakenly blocked.”

OIE’s most recent annual report said it had already seen a significant uptick in such complaints, which rose from 153 in 2016 to 275. Among those, about three-fifths came from students, a fifth from staff and 1 percent from faculty. “Sexual misconduct” complaints encompass sexual harassment, assault, relationship violence and stalking, the report said.

Specific to sex assault cases, reports nearly tripled at the sprawling private institution last year, climbing from 36 in 2016 to 101 in 2017, according to an annual campus safety report released in September.

School spokesman Dennis O’Shea attributed the 181 percent bump to increased awareness and attention to sexual misconduct on campus, as well as nationally, and to changes in university policies and processes for handling sexual misconduct and having more staff at OIE.

The News-Letter, JHU’s independent student newspaper, has reported that sexual assault survivors have found it challenging to work with OIE. Criticisms included being re-traumatized from having to recount their experiences in interviews, seeing cases go unresolved for months and having to see their alleged attackers afterward, despite no-contact orders from the university.

The announcement came as students were planning a protest on campus today calling for JHU to be more accountable for a sexual assault complaint from this year involving a tenured associate professor from the anthropology department. According to an online petition, the male professor forcefully dragged the woman, a visiting graduate student, out of a bar after trying to flirt and dance with her (her colleagues were able to separate them, the petition said).

She reported the incident after he allegedly tried to flirt with her again one day later, the petition said, but when OIE investigated the case, officials deemed it “harassment,” not assault. The petition argues the office delayed its investigation for months and didn’t interview all eyewitnesses, and calls for revocation of the professor’s tenure. It also demands increased accountability, swifter investigations, mental health and counseling training for OIE staff and more from the office.

Students took to campus this afternoon to protest in support of the accuser. Former News-Letter editor-in-chief Rollin Hu tweeted that more than 50 students attended (he later told Baltimore Fishbowl it grew to around 80), carrying a list of more than 1,000 signatories on the petition.

The paper’s current editor-in-chief, Morgan Ome, tweeted a video of protesters moving in on Garland Hall, the school’s main administrative building.

In a statement sent by O’Shea, Hopkins said it “takes allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault very seriously and has a comprehensive policy on investigating and resolving such complaints. Because such allegations have serious consequences for everyone involved, the parties to an investigation deserve a careful, thorough and balanced investigation.”

“While we recognize the students’ frustration regarding various aspects of the investigation process, including the length of time it takes for completion, we must adhere to that process to ensure fairness to all parties,” the statement said. “We also have an obligation to protect the privacy of both the respondents and the complainants in all cases. We take that obligation very seriously and do not comment on any specific report or investigation.”

The school conducted an an anonymous campus-wide survey on sexual assault this past spring semester to better evaluate its sexual assault policy. The school also released the aforementioned OIE report, its first ever, with information on how long it took to resolve misconduct complaints and the number of cases it resolved.

The office said it closed 80 cases out of the hundreds of sexual misconduct complaints it received in 2016 and 2017, 53 of them with an assessment or informal resolution, and 27 of them with a formal investigation. More than half of the complaints that led to an investigation took eight months or more to resolve, the report said.

This story has been updated.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
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