Sexual Assault Hearing & Appeals System (SAHAS)
The Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System (SAHAS) is the formal campus student disciplinary process that addresses claims of student-on-student sexual assault at Northwestern.
SAHAS is the formal process used to address alleged incidents of sexual assault on campus. It is important to understand, however, that SAHAS is but one resource (among many) that victims/survivors of sexual assault can choose to utilize. Students who have survived sexual assaults are also encouraged to seek professional medical and psychological support, consider criminal and legal options, and are entitled to academic, housing and other accommodations from the University. (Further information about resources available to sexual assault survivors can be found in the Sexual Assault Response and Resource Guide (pdf).)
Sexual assault is defined by Northwestern policy to include:
- Any intentional or knowing touching or fondling by the accused, either directly or through the clothing, of the victim’s genitals, breasts, thighs, or buttocks without the victim’s consent.
- Touching or fondling of the accused by the victim when the victim is forced to do so against his or her will.
- Any nonconsensual acts involving sexual penetration of the sex organs, anus, or mouth.
A SAHAS case starts with the filing of a Complaint. It is a student's decision to file a complaint alleging a violation of the sexual assault policy - the University cannot force a student to bring a complaint if that student does not wish to do so. Additionally, the student always has the ability to withdraw the complaint at any time.
Once filed, the Executive Secretary (a neutral party who oversees the process and advises the parties but who is not an advocate or a decision-maker in the case) will meet with the parties, make sure they are aware of their rights and responsibilities, and then schedule the matter for resolution.
Complaints alleging sexual assault are resolved through a hearing process. Hearings are conducted before a SAHAS Hearing Panel composed of five to seven members of the University community (students, faculty and staff). All Hearing Panel members undergo an additional 12 hours of training in issues surrounding sexual assault, and each Panel is required to be as gender-balanced as possible. Hearings follow a specific procedure and may seem rather formal, but they remain a community-based process that is unique to Northwestern. Thus, they are not analogous to court proceedings, and attorneys may not participate.
In a Hearing, the parties (both of whom may have a representative of their choice assist them through the process) are each entitled to state their own case, present witnesses and exhibits, and ask questions of other parties and witnesses. Ultimately, members of a SAHAS Hearing Panel must decide on two key questions: (1) was the sexual assault policy violated? and (2) if so, what is the appropriate sanction or outcome to address the situation? Sanctions can include suspension or exclusion from the University.
Upon the conclusion of a Hearing, either party - the student bringing the complaint or the student alleged to have committed a sexual assault - is entitled to seek an Appeal or Rehearing of that decision. Appeals must be based on certain defined criteria (generally: newly discovered evidence, errors in procedures, errors in interpretation of rules, or findings/sanctions that are manifestly contrary to the information presented at the hearing). Appeals are initially heard by a SAHAS Appeals Panel, who also undergo special training in sexual assault and whose make up is gender balanced as possible. Additionally, if a student is suspended or excluded from Northwestern, that student is entitled to seek an additional appeal to the President of the University (or a Vice President designated by the President).
Additional information about SAHAS is available through the resources below and by reviewing the full-text of the SAHAS policy by clicking on the links in the navigation bar to the left.
- SAHAS Complaint Form (doc)
- Information for Students involved in SAHAS Hearings (pdf)
- Information for Students involved in SAHAS Appeals (pdf)
- Sexual Assault Response and Resource Guide (pdf)