Last year, the University revamped its sexual assault adjudication process in response to changes in federal guidelines for sexual assault on campus. As part of the overhaul, Penn created a new sexual violence investigations office and hired Christopher Mallios to serve as its inaugural head.
However, after having served for less than a year as head of an office he was supposed to develop, Mallios is getting ready to leave the University to be a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County.
We can understand why Mallios would want to run for judge, and we think that he will be a prudent jurist based on his record at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and in various other legal positions. But we are dismayed at the implications of his departure for the University’s new sexual violence adjudication process, which is only in its infancy.
Mallios was brought in to lead the new office because of his depth of experiences with investigating sexual assault. And while he has likely started the office on a good path, his departure will delay the University from getting to where it needs to be in addressing sexual violence on campus.
The administration must now grapple with some important questions about the nature of the role: How much time will it take the new investigator to adjust to the roles of the office? How can the University ease students’ concerns that even though Mallios will be leaving, Penn will still be able to thoroughly investigate all sexual assaults — including those reported to, but not yet resolved by, the current investigator? One student whose case is currently under investigation said she didn’t even know that Mallios will leave in January. How can this student — and any other student who has pending cases — trust the office, when they’re not even sure who will finish investigating their cases?
The results of the Association of American Universities’ sexual assault survey indicate that Penn students don’t trust the University to punish perpetrators of sexual violence. Only 36 percent of students said that they believe it’s very or extremely likely that Penn will take action against an offender. The fact that Penn’s sole investigator for these crimes is leaving after less than a year on the job is only going to make students question Penn’s seriousness about addressing sexual assault.
Although the University has been highly transparent in recent weeks regarding its ongoing efforts to combat sexual assault, Mallios’ departure brings attention to the need for even greater transparency. The University has not yet announced how it plans to replace Mallios, and it only acknowledged that Mallios would be leaving after The Daily Pennsylvanian asked administrators about it. The University should have come forward on its own with the disclosure of Mallios’ departure, and moving forward, administrators should seek student input on the hiring of Mallios’ successor, as they have done in the past for several administrative positions — including the directors of Student Health Service and Penn Athletics.
It’s important that the person who fills Mallios’ position is approachable for students and is as qualified as Mallios was for the position. But it’s also important that students are familiar with whomever fills the role because the investigator will be most useful if victims feel comfortable reporting their assaults to him or her.
Sexual assault at Penn is a problem that both students and administrators need to address together. And the University needs to make sure that it’s keeping students informed about developments regarding sexual violence on campus.
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