Filing a Complaint
The following information outlines what happens when a member of the Northwestern community files a sexual harassment complaint. Review Resolution and Appeals for information on the next steps.
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All reports describing conduct that is inconsistent with Northwestern’s Policy on Sexual Misconduct, will be promptly and equitably resolved in accordance with Title IX and other relevant laws and regulations. For more information about Title IX, please visit the Sexual Misconduct Response & Prevention website.
Investigation will commence as soon as practicable following receipt of the complaint by the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office, generally within one week. Depending upon the circumstances, the investigator will usually be from the University Sexual Harassment Prevention Office, the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access, or the Office of Human Resources. In some cases another office may conduct the investigation under the direction of these offices, or an outside investigator may be retained. Mediation will not be used to resolve complaints involving sexual misconduct.
During an investigation, the complainant (the person filing the complaint) will have the opportunity to describe his or her allegations and present supporting witnesses or other evidence. The respondent (the person complained about) will have the opportunity to respond to the allegations and present supporting witnesses or other evidence. The investigator will review evidence presented and will meet with additional witnesses identified by the complainant, the respondent, or third parties, as determined appropriate by the investigator. The parties may not submit expert witness testimony as part of this process. No questions or evidence pertaining to the complainant’s prior sexual conduct with anyone other than the respondent are allowed, and evidence of a prior consensual dating or sexual relationship between the parties by itself does not imply consent or preclude a finding of sexual misconduct. All parties and witnesses involved in the investigation are expected to cooperate and provide complete and truthful information throughout the investigation process. In some cases, the investigator may interview the parties on more than one occasion.
Any participant in an investigation who has a complaint regarding the conduct of the investigator or who believes the investigator has a conflict of interest should contact one of the individuals listed at on the Where to get Help page, who shall take appropriate actions to address the issue in a prompt and equitable manner. No investigator shall investigate a matter in which he or she has a conflict of interest.
A victim of sexual violence has the right to simultaneously file and pursue a criminal complaint with law enforcement if he or she chooses and to be assisted by the University in notifying law enforcement authorities if he or she chooses, or to decline to notify such authorities. The University may need to temporarily delay its investigation while law enforcement gathers evidence.
The University may provide reasonable interim accommodations or remedies to a complainant to ensure a safe and nondiscriminatory environment pending investigation and resolution of a complaint. Examples of interim protective measures include, but are not limited to: an order of no contact, safe-space zones, residence hall relocation, adjustment of course schedules or work-study employment, a leave of absence, transportation arrangements, or reassignment to a different supervisor or position. Free, confidential counseling services are also available to all parties. The University will attempt to minimize any adverse effects on the complainant when taking interim measures.
Support Person/Legal Counsel
During the investigation process, both the complainant and the respondent may ask a non-attorney support person from the University community to accompany him or her. The support person must be a member of the Northwestern community and cannot be a potential witness in the matter. Since these are internal University proceedings, the persons involved may not have legal counsel present at any interview during the investigation, except as otherwise provided below. In cases involving multiple complainants or respondents, the support person cannot be another respondent or complainant. The support person does not serve as an advocate on behalf of the complainant or respondent, may not actively participate in the investigation, and he or she must agree to maintain the confidentiality of the process.
In cases of alleged domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, complainants and respondents are entitled to be accompanied by an advisor of their choice, which can include non-University community members and lawyers. Such advisors are limited to the supportive, non-participatory role detailed above.
The goal of the Northwestern University's Policy on Sexual Misconduct, Stalking, and Dating and Domestic Violence is to provide members of the community with a positive working and learning environment that is free from sexual misconduct. Complaints of sexual misconduct will be investigated in a manner that is consistent with this goal. All participants in the investigation will be advised that they should keep the complaint and the investigation confidential.
The University cannot promise complete confidentiality in its handling of sexual misconduct complaints. Northwestern makes every reasonable effort to handle inquiries, complaints, and related proceedings in a manner that protects the privacy of all parties. Each situation is resolved as discreetly as possible, with information shared only with those who need to know in order to investigate and resolve the matter.
If a victim of sexual misconduct requests anonymity or that the investigation not be pursued, the University’s ability to respond to the alleged misconduct may be limited. In certain circumstances, the University may be able to address concerns and stop problematic behavior without revealing to the alleged harasser the identity of the person who complained and/or the individuals involved in the investigation. However, this is not possible in every matter, as some situations require the disclosure of the complainant's identity in order to fully investigate the matter and/or to enable the respondent to fully respond to the allegations against him or her. In cases when a complainant requests anonymity or does not wish to proceed with an investigation, the Title IX Coordinator or her designate will determine whether the University has an obligation to proceed with the investigation notwithstanding this request based on concern for the safety or well-being of the broader University community. Northwestern reserves the right to take appropriate action in such circumstances, even in cases when the complainant is reluctant to proceed.
Retaliation Is Strictly Prohibited
Northwestern prohibits retaliation against anyone for inquiring about suspected breaches of University policy, registering a complaint pursuant to its policies, assisting another in making a complaint, or participating in an investigation under its policies. Retaliation is a serious violation that can subject the offender to sanctions independent of the merits of the sexual misconduct allegation. Anyone experiencing any conduct that he or she believes to be retaliatory should immediately report it to one of the individuals listed in Where to Get Advice and Help.