Addressing Sexual Harassment and Violence (SHV) at USC
Addressing SHV is a complex endeavor involving multiple offices of the university.
Broadly, these campus offices are tasked with investigation and adjudication of policy
and legal violations, providing prevention training and education, and acting as advocates
for complainants and respondents. Table 1 summarizes those offices and their functions.
Offices Connected to SHV Usage and Service
These are the offices connected to SHV usage and the service each provides.
Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention and Prevention (SAVIP)
- 24/7 access to confidential interpersonal violence advocates
- Advocacy services such as accompaniment, academic assistance, temporary alternative housing, safety planning, referral to on- and off-campus resources
- Education and outreach on healthy relationships, consent, and bystander intervention.
Office of Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP)
- Conducts investigations of reports of sexual harassment
- Facilitates informal resolution for faculty/staff
Office of the Dean of Students (DOS)
- Completes annual education and initiatives report
- Dean of Students serves as deputy Title IX coordinator
Division of Law Enforcement and Safety (DLES)
- Victim’s advocate assists with law enforcement procedures
- Responds to incidents on campus
- Responds to faculty/staff reports
- Enforces actions for responsible findings
Office of General Counsel
- Oversees policy and legal involvement
Cases of SHV are managed primarily through three main functions: the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP), the Division of Law Enforcement and Safety (DLES), and Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention and Prevention (SAVIP). EOP is responsible for investigating policy violations. DLES address criminal behavior and thus addresses a narrower range of SHV cases. In some cases, both EOP and DLES will be involved. SAVIP offers confidential support services to victims of interpersonal violence. In some cases, individuals go directly to SAVIP seeking support service only and do not file a report to EOP or DLES. In other cases, individuals may first contact EOP or DLES and need support services beyond investigation and prosecution and are subsequently referred to SAVIP. The Office of Student Conduct (OSC, for students) and EOP (for faculty and staff) and also provide supportive measures.
Historically, EOP was responsible for screening, investigating, and determining reasonable cause for all cases involving faculty, staff, and students. When EOP determined reasonable cause for faculty and staff cases, EOP would recommend discipline and the case would be directed to the appropriate oversight authority for determination of discipline or sanctions. For student cases, EOP would forward reasonable-cause findings to the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) for adjudication through a Carolina Judicial Council. In the case of faculty whose sanction is not termination, the authority resides in the provost’s office in consultation with the dean. If termination were recommended, the president initiates the action in consultation with the Tenure Review Board. In the case of staff, the authority is Human Resources in consultation with the unit manager. In the case of students, the authority is the OSC. In response to changes in federal regulations, the university developed a new process of investigation and adjudication, effective August 2020. In this process, EOP investigates cases which are directed to either informal resolution or formal resolution, which includes an investigation and a live hearing overseen by an external hearing officer. The hearing officer makes the determination of responsibility and discipline or sanctions, in accordance with progressive discipline outlined in university policy and state law.
Campus offices that are charged with enforcing regulatory policies, providing prevention
training and education, and acting as advocates face a complex mission. Every effort
should be made to balance these three (sometimes) competing priorities because when
one priority dominates, the other two suffer as a result. It is within this context
that the following findings and recommendations are made.
Trends in Cases at USC
Starting in 2016, EOP began systematically recording cases in an electronic database (See Appendix A). Drawing on these data, Figure 1 shows annual reported cases of sexual harassment and violence Jan. 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2020. The graph includes five bars, covering 2016 through 2020. In 2016, there were 172 cases. In 2017 there were 230 cases. In 2018, there were 244 cases. In 2019, there were 253 cases. In 2020, there were 156 cases. In total, there were 1,055 reports involving sexual harassment and/or violence.
The annual trends suggest growth in reporting, peaking in 2019. Most of this growth was driven by growth in complaints by students, as the levels of complaints for staff and faculty remained relatively stable. This growth in student complaints is likely attributable to the growth in enrollment, which increased by more than 3,000 students between 2016 and 2020. The substantially lower rates in 2020 are likely attributable to the pandemic.
Figure 1a shows annual cases reported to Sexual Assault Violence Intervention and Prevention. The graph shows there were 113 cases in 2016; 126 cases in 2017; 131 cases in 2018; 141 cases in 2019 and 98 cases in 2020.
Note that the SAVIP numbers are smaller than EOP’s numbers, which reflects the fact that fewer individuals utilize confidential SAVIP resources than the total number of individuals who report SHV. The services of SAVIP, while available to any member of the USC community, are primarily sought by students. Further, these cases tend to be violent or physical in nature, whereas EOP cases also include verbal and other non-physical forms of sexual harassment. It is also important to note that, unlike the cases reported to EOP, SAVIP is not an investigatory office, and cases reported to SAVIP may not result in an investigation or prosecution unless also reported to EOP or DLES. Thus, these cases represented in Figure 1a do not fully overlap with those in Figure 1. Nonetheless, trend in Figure 1a mirrors that of Figure 1, with a growth in cases the reflects the growth in the student population between 2016 and 2019, with a decline in 2020 that is arguably attributable to the pandemic.
Figure 1b shows annual cases reported to the university’s Division of Law Enforcement and Safety from 2017 and 2019. The graph shows there were 32 cases in 2017; 28 cases in 2018; and 36 cases in 2019.
USC’s Division of Law Enforcement and Safety (DLES) also reports crime statistics
through its annual Clery report (see Appendix A). With respect to SHV, the annual Clery report captures reports of sexual assault,
fondling, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking and other Clery Act-defined
crimes reported to designated officials (Campus Security Authorities) within the University’s
Clery geography, which includes incidents that occur on or adjacent to property owned
or maintained by the institution. In contrast, both EOP and SAVIP include reports
of incidents that occur both on and off campus and include a broader array of SHV
incidents (e.g., sexual harassment). Given these specific parameters, the annual Clery
report numbers are the lowest of the three offices that track this type of activity.
Number of Reports by Classification of the Complainant
The following data are from EOP’s database of reports and disclosures. Figure 2 shows the average annual reports by complainant. The averages are based on data from 2016-2019. Data from 2020 were excluded because the pandemic contributed to an artificially low count.
The reports in Figure 2 include those filed by the complainants themselves or by third
parties (e.g., mandated reporters or concerned others). Note that in 16% (n=170) of
the cases, the complainant was not identified or not part of the USC community. An
overwhelming majority of the identifiable cases (92%) occurred in the student population.
To put these figures in context, there was, roughly, an average of 34,000 students,
1,900 faculty and 4,250 staff during this period. Thus, 2% of students, .7% of faculty
and 1% of staff were the subject of a report. These rates contrast with the estimated
13% of college students who experience sexual assault (RAINN, n.d.), and a conservative
estimate that 25% of employees experience sexual harassment at some point in their
work lives (Feldblum & Lipnic, 2016). These findings suggest a potential under-reporting
Number of Reports by Classification of the Respondent
Figure 3 shows the average annual reports by the classification of respondent. The averages are based on data from 2016-2019. Data from 2020 were excluded because the pandemic contributed to an artificially low count.
Note that in 42% of the cases (n=373), the respondent was either not identified or was not part of the USC community. A large majority of the cases with a known respondent (77% or 177) involved student respondents, whereas 12% of the cases involved faculty cases and 11% involved staff. To put these reported incidents in context of the size of these populations, 1% of students, 3% of faculty and 1% of staff were accused of SHV over a four-year period.
Numbers of Reports Delineated by Complainant and Respondent
Figure 4 shows the percentage of respondents by complainant. Excluded from these analyses are cases where the respondent was not identified or was not a member of the USC community (and therefore was outside the jurisdiction of the EOP).
For a given classification of complainants, the majority of respondents are in the
same classification. That is, students mainly filed complaints against students, faculty
against faculty, and staff against staff. This is particularly true in the case of
students, wherein 86% of all incidents reported involved student respondents. Between
2016 and 2020, there were a total of 61 cases involving faculty respondents, representing
6% of all reports during this time interval. A small percentage (4%) of reports from
student complainants involved faculty respondents, whereas a substantial percentage
(24%) of reports from staff complainants involve faculty respondents.
Overall, the annual rate of reporting of cases of SHV has remained fairly stable, relative to the growth in the size of the institution. The overall rate of reporting is low relative to estimated percentages of SHV for students and employees found in the research literature (Feldblum & Lipnic, 2016; RAINN n.d.), suggesting potential under-reporting. Most complaints concerned students and of those complaints, a large majority are against other students. Incidents involving faculty respondents and student complaints were relatively rare.