The Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) announced on Dec. 5 that an issue with its website had mistakenly blocked it from receiving 18 reports of sexual misconduct, which took place between January 2016 and October 2018.
According to a University official, OIE was first alerted to this problem on Nov. 29. Two complainants had contacted the Office after failing to receive a message acknowledging that their online report had been received. The University official stated that OIE then discovered that a filter on the website was preventing some online reports from being forwarded to the Office and that the reports were placed in a quarantine folder. This folder is intended to hold bot-generated messages that are not relevant to OIE.
The University official clarified that OIE found 26 reports of sexual misconduct in the quarantine folder, but eight of those cases had been reported to OIE in other ways.
OIE apologized for the error on its website and wrote that it would work to fix the problem and update the crime logs and annual reports.
“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,” the website reads. “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.”
Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU) Co-Directors Mayuri Viswanathan and Bella Radant explained that though they were frustrated upon learning about this issue, SARU has been working with OIE to prevent similar issues in the future and repair some of the damage that may have been caused.
“It’s completely unacceptable,“ Viswanathan said. “People are placing a lot of trust in the Office by going out and reporting. It’s such a difficult thing to do in the aftermath of trauma and assault. The fact that not only did they somehow lose 18 reports but also that for two years nobody noticed is kind of scary.”
She added that investigating the reports now would likely be more difficult for the Office because complainants and witnesses may not remember specific details about an incident after such a significant amount of time has passed.
According to the University official, this error did not violate the Clery Act, which requires that college campuses report crime statistics. The official explained that this was because OIE and Campus Safety and Security determined that none of the 18 cases required a time-sensitive warning announcement to be sent to the University community.
Radant felt that though the incident was a mistake, it showed negligence on the part of the University.
“We are going in the exact opposite direction of interpreting Title IX that we need to be going. Cases like this where there’s just gross negligence... show that we need to be strengthening Title IX protections and working a lot harder on a national level to empower schools to respond adequately to sexual violence,” she said.
According to the University official, there were a total of 791 reports submitted to OIE from January 2016 through October 2018, which were reported either in-person, over the phone, via email or through the website. Out of the total number of reports submitted, the 18 blocked reports constituted 2.28 percent.
Out of the 18 reports that OIE failed to process, two were submitted in 2016, two in 2017 and the remaining 14 in 2018. The Office wrote that upon learning of the error, it immediately began addressing all the reports.
“OIE has contacted or attempted to contact all those who submitted these reports and will provide expedited support and services to address any of their concerns immediately,“ the website reads.
Viswanathan urged the University and OIE to take steps to ensure that the people who submitted the 18 reports were supported in any upcoming investigations.
“Engage other University services to make sure that the damage that has been done in not responding to these complaints is addressed,“ she said. “Provide more robust mental health resources, whatever they may look like in an individual case. Use the full force of the Office to make sure that people are safe.”
The University official explained that in cases where the complainants had left the University or were unaffiliated, OIE will provide the complainant with resources and take action toward the respondent to the extent possible. The official also noted that in cases where the respondent is no longer affiliated with the University, the University could retroactively take action through methods including leaving a notation on the respondent’s transcript; revoking their degree; banning them from campus; and limiting their access to Hopkins as an alumnus.