The George Washington University has released a final version of its Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence Policy and Procedures, and it includes one significant change from the interim policy.
Following recommendations from the Department of Education in 2011, which urged universities to reevaluate their sexual harassment and sexual violence policies, GW amended its existing code and published it on an interim basis.
By publishing an interim version, GW encouraged feedback from faculty, staff and students. The final version of the policy, released last week, incorporates many of those suggestions offered by those in the university community.
The interim policy included a provision limiting the time within which a member of the university community could file a formal complaint of sexual harassment after an incident occurs. Though prior GW policy did not include such a time limit, one was added to the interim policy to encourage complainants to come forward quickly, so university staff could promptly address allegations of sexual harassment.
After reviewing comparable policies in effect at other universities as well as considering views expressed by students, GW has decided not to adopt this change.
“It is my belief that including a time limit for filing complaints could confuse potential complainants and discourage them from coming forward,” said Provost Steven Lerman. “I also believe that such a provision might be misinterpreted as an indication that the university has only limited interest in eliminating sexual harassment on its campuses, which could not be further from the truth.”
Language in the new, finalized policy states that “a complaint of sexual harassment should be filed as soon as possible after the alleged harassment occurs. The University recognizes that victims of sexual harassment may not always file complaints immediately, but notes that its ability to perform an administrative review may be limited by the passage of time.”
While there is no longer a time limit as to how soon a person must file a complaint, it often becomes difficult to prosecute those accused of sexual assault crimes if much time has passed since the alleged incident, said Tara Pereira, GW’s director of campus inclusion initiatives and sexual harassment response coordinator.
“We encourage people to come forward as soon as possible so as to best help them,” she said.
At the same time, the decision to eliminate the time limit for victims to file formal complaints shows that the university listens to and responds to feedback from the community, Ms. Pereira said.
“We heard students and their concerns,” she said.
Ms. Pereira said the decision not to include a time limit provision is the only significant change from the interim to the final policy, but there are new clarifications and added context within the new document.
She stressed GW’s commitment to maintaining a positive, safe climate for study and work. Reporting incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence helps the university fulfill this commitment.