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In Wake of #MeToo, Harvard Title IX Office Saw 56 Percent Increase in Disclosures in 2018, Per Annual Report

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University Hall

Disclosures of sexual and gender-based harassment across the University increased 56 percent in 2018, according to an annual report Harvard’s Title IX Office and Office for Dispute Resolution published Thursday. The uptick comes more than a year after the #MeToo movement prompted women around the world to make public allegations of sexual harassment.

According to the report, which highlights the University's sexual harassment prevention and response efforts, the University received 416 disclosures of misconduct during fiscal year 2018, up from 266 last year. Disclosures constitute concerns about instances of sexual or gender-based harassment that Harvard affiliates or third parties brought to the attention of local Title IX coordinators. These are distinct from formal complaints of sexual misconduct, which ODR investigates separately from the Title IX Office according to a set of procedures based on Title IX, a federal anti-sex discrimination law.

University Title IX Officer Nicole M. Merhill attributed this increase to expanded training opportunities across the University this year, including more in-person training sessions and new resource documents. She also said the global #MeToo movement has played a role in this increase.

“I certainly think that we’re seeing the ongoing ripple effects from the #MeToo movement and more people coming forward,” she said. “Oftentimes individuals will reach out directly to my office or to our local coordinators and will specifically say, ‘I’m finally feeling that I can come forward because of the #MeToo movement.’”

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William McCants, the director of the Office for Dispute Resolution, added that his office has similarly heard complainants invoke #MeToo as a catalyst for filing their formal complaints.

“It is not uncommon for a party to say, ‘I felt I could now come forward with this concern because of what’s going on in the national media,’” he said.

This year also saw a small increase in the number of new formal complaints filed with ODR, from 43 complaints in 2017 to 46 complaints in 2018. Last year, ODR saw a 65 percent increase in formal Title IX complaints from the previous year.

The report featured additional information this year about trainings, types of allegations contained in formal complaints, breakdowns of disclosure rates beyond the College, and a new statistic on the outcome of complaints about incidents that are not found to violate Title IX policies.

The Title IX Office and ODR conducted 182 in-person trainings this year, a 78 percent increase from last year. Merhill said her office worked to offer more opportunities for in-person training.

In particular, the report highlighted a new initiative that provided Title IX trainings to all full-time employees in the Department of Athletics. The Title IX coordinators at Harvard’s Longwood campus — which is home to the Medical School, Dental School, and School of Public Health — also presented workshops to staff throughout the year.

Online training module completion also increased this year. The number of employees who completed the training more than doubled, and 100 percent of College students completed a training. These online trainings were mandatory — and enforced — for both employees and College students for the first time this year. Students were required to complete the module or an in-person training in order to enroll in classes this fall.

The report also included data on the types of allegations raised in formal complaints. The most common complaint fell under the category of “verbal, written, graphic, photo, film, eyeing, sexual advance, and other harassment” — out of 184 categorized allegations between 2015 and 2018, 40 fell into this bucket. Between 35 and 40 allegations fell under the category of “unwelcome touching other than penetration,” and between 20 and 25 complaints of “penetration.” Thirty allegations involved retaliatory behavior.

The report also found that of the 46 percent of formal complaints for which investigators did not ultimately find a Title IX violation, 7 percent still resulted in sanctions under specific school policies. Non-sexual violence, for example, may incur penalties at individual schools, but not under sexual harassment policies, according to McCants.

McCants also pointed to a 32 percent increase in the number of formal complaints that proceeded to investigation after initial review — a step after which some complaints are dismissed because the alleged conduct, even if true, would not violate Title IX policies. Improved trainings likely played a role in the uptick of complaints that ODR did investigate, he said.

“That suggests that because of all these initiatives, people have a better sense now of what kind of conduct might violate the policy because that’s the question we ask in initial review,” he said.

In addition to new training programs, the Title IX Office also redesigned its website and produced new informational materials for faculty and staff to help them understand their disclosure reporting duties under the University’s policies. The Office also created a student liaison committee in June consisting of students from each of Harvard’s schools and the College.

Consistent with previous years, the majority of the people impacted by instances of sexual or gender-based harassment were students — students made up 71 percent of formal complainants, and faculty or staff made up 19 percent. Thirty-one percent of “people identified as impacted by potential conduct” — in other words, the alleged victims of reported incidents — were College students.

Between 2017 and 2018, the number of College student complainants rose from six to 12, the number of staff complainants grew from two to 12, and the number of graduate student complainants decreased from 16 to six.

Merhill’s statement in the report said her office is also working to develop a digital disclosure filing system, an initiative Bacow announced in his public response to a Title IX Policy Review Committee report. In an interview, Merhill said the initiative is “still in its infancy,” but that her office was working with students, faculty, and staff to build the system.

—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at jamie.halper@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper.

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