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Theobald announces committee on sexual assault

The committee will seek to complete a report of students’ perceptions of the issue, a review of current policies and procedures and explore best practices from other institutions.

On Friday, the university announced a committee aimed to address sexual misconduct at Temple. The Presidential Committee on Campus Sexual Misconduct, which has begun meeting, will explore three parts to the issue: students’ perceptions of the issue, a review of current policies and procedures and will explore best practices from other institutions.

A university spokesman confirmed that although the term “sexual misconducts” encompasses a broad scope, sexual assaults will be included in the discussion.

The committee currently consists of nine administrators and professors, three students and an additional three administrative assistants from various colleges and departments in the university.

Laura Siminoff, dean of the College of Health Professions and Social Work and chair of the new committee, said she was approached for the position in late August and began meeting with members last month.

Siminoff said the three sections of the committee will be meeting roughly every week and has aimed to be finished by the end of the semester with recommendations for the president being finalized for early next year. Theobald wrote that he will review the findings then report them to the Board of Trustees and the public.

The creation of the committee was announced in a written statement signed by President Theobald and emailed to the student body earlier Friday. The statement cited the national focus on the issue of sexual misconduct on college campuses as cause for the committee, calling it “one of the most significant issues facing colleges and universities.”

“I want to ensure that Temple is providing the most effective services for the university community, following exemplary procedures for handling reports of sexual assault and related offenses, and promoting ongoing awareness of the university’s policies and prevention efforts,” Theobald wrote.

In May, it was announced that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights was investigating Temple, along with 55 other higher education institutions, for possible Title IX violations over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints. A university spokesman said the investigation is still open as of Friday and Temple will continue to cooperate in the investigation.

However, when asked if the Title IX investigation prompted the creation of the committee, Siminoff said, “to my knowledge, no.”

“Obviously it’s been a big issue nationally,” Siminoff said. “The time was a good one to look at this issue.”

Theobald’s announcement email referenced a White House report from April as reason for a general survey of students to gauge their perceptions of safety at the university. Siminoff said the exact format for the student survey has yet to be determined but she hopes to have it posted to the university’s website later this month.

According to the university’s latest Fire and Safety Report, there were 17 reported sexual offenses on or near Main Campus in 2013, 5 in 2012 and 9 in 2011. Temple Police has reported no sexual assaults since Sept. 23, according to the CSS crime logs.

Nationally, around one in five women who attend an institution of higher education were sexually assaulted, according to this spring’s White House report.

“After looking at national statistics, I can tell you as a woman and a mother, I was shocked,” Siminoff said. “That to me is an epidemic … all universities have to do better.”

Marcus McCarthy can be reached at marcus.mccarthy@temple.edu or on Twitter @marcusmccarthy6.

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