Federal audit flags UH-Manoa's handling of sex harassment complaints

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A federal audit says the University of Hawaii at Manoa did not fully comply with federal law when dealing with student reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights examined Title IX cases involving sexual harassment or violence at the university's flagship campus from 2010 to 2016.

In one case involving the rape of a student athlete by another student, the report says the university failed to appropriately respond to the victim's complaint. After the student reported she was raped, the university told the suspect — who lived off campus at the time — that he could not contact the victim and was banned from entering all dorms.

The suspect violated the ban four times within a three months, and was given several warnings but no further action was taken.

After an investigation, which took 159 days, he was found responsible for sex assault and was kicked out of school.

During the time, the victim reportedly suffered a drop in her grades and even considered dropping out.

The report also found the University may not be completing its investigations promptly as required under Title IX.

For most cases, the average time it took for the University to finish its investigations ranged from 49 to 111 days.

However, there were 10 cases that took more than 150 days, seven that took more than 200 days, and one case (involving allegations against a university employee) that took 620 days to complete.

Under a voluntary resolution agreement reached with the U.S. Education Department, the university said it would review its policies and procedures, provide training, conduct campus climate surveys, and reach out to students who made complaints in previous years to give them a chance to go over any specific concerns.

A lot of that work has already been done.

"We want our kids to be able to focus on their education, harassment free. And we feel we're in a much better place than when this compliance review started," said UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl.

UH said nearly 2,800 employees across the Manoa campus have gone through online Title IX training.

The university also released a survey on campus climate in January.

It showed that more than 22 percent of female students at the University of Hawaii have experienced dating or domestic violence, and about 12 percent have been sexually harassed or stalked during their time there. Meanwhile, 8.5 percent of female students said they'd experienced nonconsensual sexual contact.

"Every two years we'll be doing these surveys and measure our success and see where we need to improve. And each campus, including the UH Manoa campus, has a stand alone Title IX office to handle just Title IX cases," Meisenzahl said.

Some students say they feel they have the support they need on campus.

"The RAs (resident advisers) are all counselors themselves so they have a lot of resources and are able to help protect yourself mentally and physically," said UH Manoa sophomore Victoria Davies.

Advocates for victims of domestic violence say they're pleased the University is finally taking this seriously.

"They have put into place enormous amount of time, effort, talent, and resources to respond and get ahead of the challenges all universities and communities across the country are facing," said Nanci Kreidman, CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center.

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