SAHAS Policy

Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System

Northwestern University recognizes that cases alleging sexual assault pose unique problems for the standard hearing and appeals process. The nature of the alleged offense requires that safeguards exist to protect the privacy of the charging party while at the same time assuring a fair and impartial adjudication of the charges against undergraduate, graduate, and professional students who stand accused. The objectives of equity and confidentiality are intended to encourage victims of sexual assault to come forward and to enable the University to determine, as best it can, when violations have occurred and to take appropriate action.

I. Sexual Assault

  1. Sexual assault is strictly prohibited and shall not be tolerated at Northwestern. Sexual assault means 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. Sexual assault includes touching or fondling of the accused by the victim when the victim is forced to do so against his or her will. Sexual assault also includes any nonconsensual acts involving sexual penetration of the sex organs, anus, or mouth.
  2. The use of alcohol and/or drugs by one or more of the parties involved will not be considered as a mitigating factor in cases of alleged sexual assault. In fact, such use may be considered as an aggravating factor if the effect of such use is deemed to have made the complaining party incapable of giving consent.
  3. Sexual assault is an act of violence. Verbal conduct, without the requisite physical touching or fondling, will not be deemed sexual assault so as to trigger the procedures defined below. However, such conduct may constitute sexual harassment as defined in University policies. Individuals to whom such conduct is directed should refer to the policy and procedures on sexual harassment.

II. Structure

  1. Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals Board.

    1. The Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals Board is drawn from the membership of the University Hearing and Appeals Board and is composed of undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty members, and administrative staff members. The number of members (both overall and from each constituency group) may fluctuate from time to time, but there shall always be sufficient numbers to satisfy the Board’s duties. Traditionally, the Sexual Assault Hearing and Board has been composed of approximately 8 undergraduate students, 1 graduate student, 8 faculty members, and 6 staff members. Membership should, to the extent practical, include an equal ratio of males and females.

    2. Prior to serving on any SAHAS matter, members are required to complete, in addition to the trainings required of UHAS membership, a 12-hour education/training program on sexual assault and the SAHAS process. Members must also uphold all ethical and behavioral standards articulated during training.

    3. All members are expected to serve at least one year and shall serve until they resign, lose their status as a member of the constituency from which they were selected, or are removed for nonparticipation or failure to comply with membership standards.

    4. A panel of five to seven members will generally be appointed for the purpose of conducting hearings, and a panel of three members will be appointed for the purpose of conducting appeals. Each panel should, to the extent practical, be gender-balanced. A chair will be selected from each panel to preside over and manage the hearing or appeal. Decisions of any hearing or appeals panel require the affirmative vote of a majority of members.

    5. Parties may request and members shall be disqualified, either on their own initiative or by a majority vote of the remaining members of a panel, from serving on a hearing or appeals panel from any matter in which they have an interest or relationship with the parties or the events that might reasonably raise a question of their impartiality. Members who serve on a hearing panel shall be disqualified from serving on an appeals panel that reviews the decision of that hearing panel.

  2. Executive Secretary. The executive secretary shall be employed by the University to receive all complaints, pleadings, appeals, and other communications on behalf of the board or its panels, to set the calendar of, arrange for, and keep summaries of hearings and other actions, and to take any other actions specified or authorized in these procedures. It will be the responsibility of the executive secretary to assist complainants in the filing of complaints and students or student organizations complained against in obtaining advice and/or representation. The executive secretary will also maintain the records of decision of the Board, will serve to implement decisions of the Board, and be responsible for any other duties necessary for the orderly operation of the Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System. The executive secretary will in no case recommend a decision to the Board or a panel. A staff assistant designated by the executive secretary may perform any of the above functions in the name and under the supervision of the executive secretary.

III. Jurisdiction

  1. The Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System will have exclusive jurisdiction over all cases alleging sexual assault, as defined in Section I, that may call for the discipline of a current or former student of any school at the University (except those students attending Northwestern University in Qatar) arising out of conduct that occurred (1) on University premises; (2) at a University activity, program, function, or sponsored event; (3) in the off-campus residence of any University student or on any street or area contiguous thereto; (4) on premises subject to the jurisdiction of University Police whether on or off University property; or (5) when the conduct has a real and substantial connection to the legitimate interests of the University or members of the University community. In addition, the conduct complained about must have occurred from the time of a student’s application for admission through the actual awarding of a degree, including during the academic year, before classes begin or after classes end, during time pursuing credit away from campus (study abroad, internships, co-ops, etc.), and during periods between terms of actual enrollment and even if the conduct is not discovered until after a degree is awarded.

  2. Neither the jurisdiction of the University Hearing and Appeals System nor any other formal conduct resolution procedure will supersede that of the Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System. Nothing herein shall prevent a student who believes himself or herself to be the victim of a sexual assault from filing a criminal complaint instead of, or in addition to, a complaint under these provisions.

  3. The Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System will continue to have jurisdiction over an individual over whom the University had jurisdiction at the time of the alleged act complained of but who ceases to be an enrolled student at any time prior to the final resolution of the complaint. If, at any time after notice is given of the complaint and prior to the final decision of a hearing panel, a party against whom a complaint is filed presents the executive secretary with notice of permanent withdrawal from the University, then this individual’s withdrawal shall constitute a disciplinary exclusion from the University, shall be recorded in the student’s permanent file in the office of the vice president for student affairs (but not on the transcript), and shall prohibit the student from subsequently enrolling in any school in the University unless admitted through the office of admissions of the appropriate school and cleared by the vice president for student affairs.

IV. Complaints

  1. Action will begin with the filing of a written complaint with the executive secretary. The complaint shall specify which type(s) of sexual assault alleged to have been violated and state briefly the circumstances that form the basis of the allegations. A copy of the complaint shall promptly be provided to the student complained against. Once filed, a complaint may be withdrawn at the option of the person filing the complaint.

  2. All complaints must be filed within one calendar year after the alleged action referred to in the complaint occurred or after the party bringing the complaint obtained actual knowledge of the act or its consequences or unless exceptional circumstances prevented compliance with the one-year provision.

  3. If a complaint includes more than one party complained against, or if two or more complaints concern the same or overlapping parties or incidents, such matters may proceed either separately or jointly at the discretion of the executive secretary and with the agreement of the parties.

V. Hearings and Procedures

  1. A hearing should be scheduled as soon as practicable following receipt of the complaint by the executive secretary, generally within two weeks. Any party may request that the hearing time be rescheduled for good reason, which may include illness, examination or other University schedules, appearance in civil or criminal courts for the same matter (in which case, see section V.B. below), time required to make investigation or prepare defense, and similar grounds. Such requests may be granted by the panel assigned to the matter (or by the executive secretary if a panel has not been assigned) or by approval of all parties, SAHAS proceedings may be delayed to permit efforts to resolve the issue through an appropriate or adaptive resolution process (e.g., conciliation, mediation, restorative practice, facilitated dialogue) with the approval of all parties; however, any such resolution effort must be conducted by a trained facilitator and, upon successful completion of such efforts, the parties shall have three business days to revoke the agreement or outcome. If such an agreement or outcome is revoked, the matter will again be scheduled for a hearing.

  2. In the event that a postponement is granted pending the outcome of a criminal proceeding, the hearing and appeals panels need not be bound by the state court determination of the criminal case. Notwithstanding that fact, if a finding of guilty on a charge of sexual assault is returned against the accused student(s) in a criminal case (or if the student pleads guilty to such a charge) and no timely appeal is taken, the student(s) will be excluded from the University, upon notice, without further hearing before a sexual assault hearing panel.

  3. Any party has the right to have a representative assist or advise them throughout the SAHAS process. Representatives must be a member of the University community (faculty, staff, or student), but cannot be a member of the bar nor a parent of either the complainant or the respondent. Individuals who intend to present factual information at a hearing should generally not serve as representatives.

  4. Any party is entitled prior to the hearing to have the names of those presenting information on behalf of other parties, a brief description of any materials or exhibits that the other parties may present, and the names of any individuals serving as a representative to any party.

  5. All hearings will be conducted in private and will include the members of the hearing panel and its staff (including the executive secretary and trainees), those complaining and complained against, and their representatives. Witnesses and other individuals presenting information will be called to the hearing room only to present information and will thereafter be excused by the chair.

  6. The chair of the panel has authority (with or without the input of the panel) to decide any and all procedural questions, maintain order, and to control the conduct of persons at the hearing.

  7. Individuals appearing before a hearing panel or otherwise participating in the SAHAS system have the responsibility to present truthful information.

  8. If a party against whom a complaint has been filed does not appear for a hearing after receiving proper notice, the hearing may still be conducted in that party’s absence and information in support of the complaint may be presented and considered.

  9. The conduct of the hearing will be informal and follow procedures developed for the system and provided to the parties prior to any hearing. A hearing panel may consider and weigh, at its sole discretion, any pertinent information, records, exhibits, and written statements presented at the hearing. Formal rules of process, procedure, and evidence, including those applied in legal proceedings, are not used in SAHAS procedures.

  10. Hearing panels must have sufficient information to determine that a party committed a sexual assault and to impose any sanctions or outcomes. A hearing panel may also dismiss a complaint for lacking merit or being frivolous, malicious, or retaliatory.

  11. The executive secretary is responsible for making a record of the hearing and its outcomes. Deliberations will not be recorded. The record and any copies or transcriptions shall be the sole property of the University.

  12. Notice of the decision of the hearing panel (including the findings as to violations and sanctions imposed) will be sent in writing to the party complained against as soon as practicable after the decision is reached. If a decision is appealed, the parties will both be notified as to the availability of the written summary or record of proceedings immediately after it becomes available. Notice of the decision will also be provided to the complainant as required by law.

  13. The executive secretary will be responsible for maintaining the records pertaining to all SAHAS cases, including their outcomes, in compliance with appropriate confidentiality and record-keeping requirements. The executive secretary shall also keep a confidential summary of SAHAS proceedings for a five-year period, which summary shall be available only to the Board or to parties, upon request, to research precedent for their case. Such summaries shall not include any personally identifiable information regarding the participants in those prior cases and shall be the sole property of the University.

VI. Witnesses

  1. Any party or the hearing panel may arrange for witnesses to present information at the hearing. The executive secretary, at the request of any party or the hearing panel, will assist in securing the attendance of possible witnesses. The appearance and cooperation of members of the University community as witnesses are expected, and any individual refusing to cooperate without good reason will be subject to possible discipline and sanctions through an appropriate resolution procedure.

  2. A witness may submit a signed, written statement in lieu of appearing in person at the hearing, unless otherwise stipulated by the hearing panel.

  3. If a hearing panel determines that the absence or unavailability of a witness materially impairs their ability to hear or resolve a complaint, the panel may, in its sole discretion, proceed with the hearing, postpone the hearing until such time as the witness is available, or take any other action it deems appropriate.

VII. Sanctions and Outcomes

  1. If the hearing panel decides the party charged committed a sexual assault, that panel shall immediately thereafter determine the sanctions or outcomes for that party based on a consideration of the nature and seriousness of the incident(s) and violation(s) and any other pertinent factors. Additionally, any party shall be permitted the opportunity to present or address the following information, as appropriate, to the hearing panel before sanctions or outcomes are imposed: (1) character witnesses, (2) mitigating or aggravating circumstances, (3) past record of disciplinary sanctions of the party complained against, (4) recommendations regarding the sanctions or outcomes of the case, and (5) any other factors that the parties or the panel consider relevant. The executive secretary shall advise the hearing panel, prior to any deliberations on sanctions, of any past record of disciplinary actions and sanctions of the party complained against if such information was not otherwise presented during the hearing.

  2. Sanctions and outcomes include (but are not limited to) those outlined in the Student Code of Conduct, specifically including exclusion, suspension, disciplinary probation, removal or relocation of university housing, housing probation, fines, loss or restriction on privileges, and warnings, in addition to other disciplinary, educational, restorative, and supportive outcomes. Sanctions and outcomes may be imposed alone or in combination and may also include any condition that must be fulfilled in lieu of an alternative or additional sanction. When appropriate, a hearing panel should specify the date by which a sanction or outcome must be satisfied.

  3. In addition, the executive secretary or a hearing panel may recommend that the vice president of student affairs or his/her designee: (1) move a student complained against to a different area of University housing, including fraternity and sorority housing, (2) restrict the student from eating in certain dining areas, attending University-sponsored activities, events, or meetings, or participating in any other non-academic commitments (including campus employment or work-study responsibilities), or (3) work with appropriate University officials to secure accommodations or changes in academic requirements pending the outcome of a hearing or appeal if any such actions are necessary for reasons relating to the safety and well-being of students or to prevent unwanted contact between the student complained against and the complaining student.

VIII. Rehearings and Appeals

  1. Rehearings

    1. A party complained against may request a rehearing of any case by submitting in writing the reasons for requesting the rehearing to the office of the executive secretary within one calendar year of the original decision of the hearing panel. The rehearing will be heard by the same panel that heard the original complaint to the extent practicable.

    2. Rehearings may be based only on newly discovered evidence that reasonably could have affected the decision of the hearing panel. “Newly discovered evidence” is evidence that could not have been discovered and presented at the initial hearing through the exercise of reasonable diligence by the party. The panel will have a preliminary meeting with the party requesting the rehearing and any other parties to discuss whether the reasons given provide sufficient grounds for granting a rehearing. If the panel determines that a rehearing should be granted, the rehearing will be scheduled as soon as practicable and the sanctions or outcomes previously imposed upon the party seeking the rehearing will be suspended. Rehearings are conducted in the same manner as hearings.

  2. Appeals. Any party may appeal a decision by submitting an appeal request in writing to the executive secretary.

    1. Any party may initiate the appeals process by submitting a notification of intent to appeal in writing to the executive secretary within such reasonable time as outlined in the final, written decision from the hearing panel (usually three to five business days). The executive secretary will then prepare a transcript or summary of the record of the hearing and secure an appeals panel to hear the appeal, generally within two weeks of the notice of appeal or submission of the appellant’s written appeals statement.

    2. The appellant must submit a written appeals statement that includes all the reasons for requesting an appeal and the actions requested within five business days of the date on which notice is sent to the appellant of the availability of the summary or record of the proceedings. Other parties to the matter, as well as the executive secretary to the prior hearing panel, may submit written statements regarding the appeal.

    3. Appeals may only be based on: (a) errors in procedures that reasonably could have affected the outcome of the hearing, (b) errors in the interpretation of rules or regulations that reasonably could have affected the outcome of the hearing, or (c) when a hearing panel’s finding as to a violation or sanction (or both) was manifestly contrary to the information presented at the hearing (i.e., obviously unreasonable and unsupported by the great weight of information).

    4. The appeals panel will limit its review to the summary or record of proceedings of the hearing and the statements submitted by the parties and the executive secretary regarding the appeal, but no witnesses will be heard and no new information will be received.

    5. On an appeal from the decision of a hearing panel, an appeals panel may take the following actions, in whole or in part: (a) affirm the decision, (b) reduce the sanction imposed, (c) dismiss the case, or (d) direct the hearing panel to rehear the case as to the finding of a violation or the sanction imposed or both, in which case the appeals panel may also instruct the hearing panel on procedures, interpretation of rules or regulations, or the appropriateness of findings and sanctions. An appeals panel may also dismiss an appeal for lacking merit or being frivolous, malicious, or retaliatory. Additionally, if an appeals panel determines that the decision rendered by the hearing panel represented a gross miscarriage of justice, the appeals panel can take any of the preceding actions or direct a new hearing to take place, to be heard either by a completely new hearing panel or an independent hearing officer. Decisions of an appeals panel must be given promptly in writing and constitute the final level of appeal except in cases in which suspension or exclusion is ordered.

    6. In cases in which an appeals panel upholds or imposes suspension or exclusion, the affected party may request a review of the record by the president of the University (or by a vice president designated by the president to review the case). The president (or designated vice president) will issue a written decision regarding any such appeal, which decision shall be final. Such decision shall be rendered within a reasonable period of time, usually no longer than 90 days from the request for review.

  3. If a party files with the executive secretary a notice of withdrawal from the University while any rehearing or appeal initiated by that party is pending, that party’s withdrawal shall constitute a withdrawal of the rehearing or appeal, and the finding from the last decision appealed (or from which the request for rehearing was made) shall become final.

IX. Confidentiality

The executive secretary and all participating members of the Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals Board, including any individuals who have excused themselves, are forbidden to disclose the identity of the parties to the proceedings or any details or information regarding the incident or proceedings except to officers of the University as necessary to implement any provisions of this system or the business of the University or otherwise in conformity with law or University policy. Any individuals who violate these confidentiality provisions will be subject to possible sanctions through the appropriate resolution process.

While the University requests all parties to maintain the confidentiality of its sexual assault proceedings, unless otherwise agreed by the charging party, federal regulations prohibit the University from interfering with the charging party’s redisclosure of the final determination of any sexual assault proceeding and any sanction that is imposed against the accused.

X. Retaliation

No one shall be retaliated against for having filed a charge under these procedures or for otherwise participating in or exercising any rights or responsibilities associated with the Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System. Any individual who so retaliates against another individual will be subject to possible discipline and sanctions through an appropriate resolution procedure. For purposes of this section, retaliation shall mean any threat, coercion, intimidation, or physical assault undertaken or attempted, either directly or by someone acting on behalf of another, in response to the filing of a charge or for otherwise participating in or exercising any rights or responsibilities associated with the Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System. Any participant in a pending SAHAS proceeding who is aware of possible retaliation or has other concerns regarding a SAHAS matter should report these concerns to the executive secretary, the director of the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, the dean of students, or the vice president for student affairs, who shall take appropriate actions to address such conduct in a prompt and equitable manner.

XII. Amendments

Amendments to the procedures that do not require a change in University statutes will become effective upon initiative by the president of the University or upon recommendation by the vice president for student affairs and approval by the president.