Days after the federal Department of Education released a list of over 50 colleges under investigation for allegedly mishandling sexual violence complaints, Penn has proposed updates to its own sexual violence policy.
The proposed additions, released in the Almanac on Tuesday, would add specific definitions for relationship violence, domestic violence and stalking to the policy banning sexual violence amongst faculty, staff, students and visitors to campus. The previous policy only defined rape, non-forcible sex acts and consent. The policy was last updated in 2012.
The proposal would also change the name of the policy from the Sexual Violence Policy to the Sexual Violence, Relationship Violence and Stalking Policy.
If the proposal is approved, Penn will define relationship violence as “a pattern of abuse committed by a person, past or present, involved in a sexual or romantic relationship with the victim.” It will encompass physical, sexual, emotional or economic violence. Domestic violence will be defined as “abuse committed against an adult who is a spouse or former spouse, cohabitant or someone with whom the abuser has a child, has an existing dating or engagement relationship, or has had a former dating or engagement relationship.”
Stalking would be defined as “engaging in a course directed at specific person(s) that would cause a reasonable person to (a) fear for his or her safety or the safety of others, or (b) suffer substantial emotional distress.”
Anyone with additional suggestions on Penn’s proposed policy update should send them to Vice President for Institutional Affairs Joann Mitchell by May 20. Mitchell could not immediately be reached for comment late Tuesday afternoon.
Violations of the policy "may result in disciplinary action up to and including expulsion or termination of employment," separate from any additional criminal ramifications.
The Department of Education list — which includes Ivy League peers Harvard College, Harvard Law School, Princeton University and Dartmouth College — isn’t the only time sexual violence has been in the national spotlight this year. The White House convened a task force on sexual assault on Jan. 22, 2014. The White House task force released a report on April 29 and launched a new website, NotAlone.gov, with resources for both schools and students. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) have pledged to bring the issue to the forefront of the Senate floor.
Check back for updates.