Amid a series of changes to federal laws regarding how universities handle sexual assaults and sexual misconduct, the University System of Maryland is in the process of updating its two-decade-old policies on the matter.

The Board of Regents of the university system, which includes 11 of the state's public four-year universities, is set to discuss the proposed revisions at a committee meeting Tuesday. The proposal is still under discussion with various stakeholders, including college presidents and their legal counsel, and a final draft will be presented to the full board in late June.

A federal government task force in April released a series of guidelines intended to pressure universities to step up efforts to fight sexual assault on college campuses. It also attempted to clarify recent changes to federal laws regarding how sexual assaults are handled and reported, and included an example of how colleges should write those policies. The Maryland Office of the Attorney General recommended the update, according to an agenda for the regents meeting.

The current university system policy on sexual harassment was approved in 1992, and will be merged with the sexual assault policy under the proposed revisions. The system's sexual assault policy was adopted in 1995 and last changed in 1999.

Individual colleges including Towson University and the University of Maryland, College Park have individual policies that mirror the system's policy and expand on it with campus-specific details like which office sexual assaults should be reported to. USM spokesman Mike Lurie said individual campuses will likely adopt and tailor the new policy to meet their needs.

"Campuses will need to comply with certain aspects of what will be the new USM policy and may need to include certain specifics, but they will not be asked to adopt the USM policy in place of what they already have," Lurie said in an email.

The draft revisions prohibit universities from requiring mediation between the person reporting a sexual assault and the person they accused. They also would prohibit a university from waiting until a law enforcement investigation is complete before taking action.

The draft revisions also expand on the definition of consent. The existing guidelines define a non-consensual encounter as such: "These acts must be committed either by force, threat, intimidation or through the use of the victim's mental or physical helplessness of which the accused was aware or should have been aware."

The new version instead gives a lengthy definition of consent:

"Consent means a knowing, voluntary, and affirmatively communicated willingness to mutually participate in a particular sexual activity or behavior. It must be given by a person with the ability and capacity to exercise free will and make a rational and reasonable judgment. Consent may be expressed either by affirmative words or actions, as long as those words or actions create a mutually understandable permission regarding the conditions of sexual activity. Consent may be withdrawn at any time. Consent cannot be obtained by force, threat, coercion, fraud, manipulation, reasonable fear of injury, intimidation or through the use of the one’s mental or physical helplessness or incapacity. Consent cannot be implied based upon the mere fact of a previous consensual dating or sexual relationship. Consent to engage in sexual activity with one person does not imply consent to engage in sexual activity with another."

The new policy would also add definitions of dating violence, stalking, and domestic violence.

The full draft changes can be read here. The existing policy can be found here.

cwells@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cwellssun