U of Illinois sees increase in sexual misconduct reports

URBANA, Ill. — University of Illinois officials say a rise in reported sexual misconduct cases against employees was likely spurred by the #MeToo movement, mandatory employee training and a new online way to file complaints.

The university’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Access handled about 50 sexual conduct cases involving faculty, staff or student employees in both 2016 and 2017, The (Champaign) News-Gazettereported. That’s an increase from 30 cases in 2015 and 26 cases in 2014. The cases included sexual or gender-based harassment, dating violence, stalking and sexual assault.

The data are separate from complaints filed by students against other students, which are handled by the campus Title IX office.

Many complaints are from former students and employees regarding events that took place many years ago, said Heidi Johnson, director of the office. Reporting likely has been encouraged by the national #MeToo movement, she said.

The movement has created a public space to have conversations about harassment and misconduct, said Colleen Murphy, a law professor at the university.

“If people have had an experience that they thought about reporting, or were uncomfortable with, to see that they’re not alone, that there’s a broader, systemic problem that their story fits into, it’s not surprising that they try to look for resources to help them resolve or deal with their own particular situation,” Murphy said.

An online reporting system started in 2015 also gives people a convenient and private way to report cases. The university also started mandatory online sexual harassment training for all employees in 2016. Other groups or departments can request additional training, Johnson said.

“We’ve received a lot of training requests just this year, based on what’s happening in the media,” Johnson said. “They want their employees to understand this topic a little bit better.”