Illustration by Isabel Ríos

Step-By-Step: How to Report Sexual Misconduct at NYU Abu Dhabi

In conversation with NYU’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX and NYUAD’s Health Promotion and Sexual Misconduct Office, we break down the process of filing a formal complaint and accessing accommodations for survivors of sexual harm on campus.

Mar 28, 2021

Reports and formal complaints from NYU Abu Dhabi regarding sexual harassment, abuse or assault fall under the purview of New York University’s Sexual Misconduct, Relationship Violence and Stalking Policy. Given recent changes to the federal Title IX law in May of 2020 and subsequent ambiguity around reporting, options and resources available to survivors, The Gazelle interviewed Director of Student Success and Well-being, Tina Wadhwa, Title IX Coordinator and Assistant Vice President of the Office of Equal Opportunity at New York, Mary Signor and Associate Dean of Students, Michael Martinez, to break down this process step by step.
Under the policy, sexual misconduct is defined as the following: sexual or gender based harassment, sexual assault, sexual exploitation as well as relationship violence, stalking and retaliation. Complaints under this policy are handled through the Office of Sexual Misconduct in New York.
For the purposes of this piece, the terms survivor and complainant, the individual who files a report, are used interchangeably. The Sexual Misconduct policy refers to the individual who the complaint is filed against and who is allegedly in violation of the policy, as the respondent: this article uses this term interchangeably with the term alleged perpetrator.
Whom to go to? Confidential vs. Private Resources Explained
Survivors can reach out to doctors, nurses and counselors at the Health Center, as well as the Wellness Exchange. These are regarded as confidential resources, as any information shared with them will not be shared with anyone else regardless of the nature of the information shared.
The first points of contact for anything related to sexual misconduct at the NYUAD campus are Wadhwa and Martinez, however it is possible to communicate with Mary Signor, NYU’s Title IX coordinator, directly. Wadhwa and Martinez act as private resources meaning that any information conveyed to them regarding sexual misconduct will be shared with Mary Signor. Speaking to any of these private resources, such as Wadhwa, Martinez and Signor does not automatically initiate a formal complaint or any action that would lead to an investigation.
These private resources inform survivors of the different options available to proceed forward: filing a formal complaint through the office that handles sexual misconduct in New York or exploring alternative ways of mediating the incident.
If the alleged perpetrator is a university employee, the process mostly looks the same, our sources reassured. “What is really going to dictate the process is going to be the conduct … [if] It's more like a sexual harassment, inappropriate comment that is going to be taken down [under] the non discrimination policy, which is a whole different conversation that we would have to have,” Signor clarified.
Filing a Formal Complaint
If a survivor does choose to move forward with filing a formal complaint they are then put in contact with Signor’s Office. This involves filling out a Formal Complaint form. Upon receiving this written documentation, the office is obligated to inform the respondent or alleged perpetrator that there has been a formal complaint filed against them through a Notice of Investigation.
At this point, both parties are introduced to their investigators. These are individuals within the Office of Sexual Misconduct who handle the complaint. Both parties are asked to identify any witnesses for interviews, if available, or other supporting evidence, including documents or communications, to facilitate the investigation. Witnesses can be people with direct experience or knowledge of any events or circumstances related to the investigation.
Based on the information conveyed so far, a draft report is prepared by the Office of Sexual Misconduct and shared with the survivor and respondent. Both parties are given a 10 day notice to review this report. Under the policy, while they may not actively participate, both parties are allowed to have an advisor who can be a person of choice to support and advise the individual. The advisor is questioned live during a hearing. If either of the parties don’t choose an advisor, they are assigned one.
Once the responses to the draft report have been received by the Office of Sexual Misconduct, a final report is documented and shared with the Office of Student Conduct, also based in New York. Both parties are given at least a 10 day notice for when a hearing will be conducted. The hearing is adjudicated by a hearing officer in a process that entails recounting the experience and other relevant information. Between this hearing and the conclusion of the complaint, there is a period of appeal available for both parties.
While a complainant can make an informal report anonymously, one cannot move through a formal investigation anonymously given the Title IX requirement for a live cross examination of both parties. This cross examination involves questioning both parties and their witnesses in a formal hearing. “If the responding party cannot ask questions of the survivor, the survivor statement cannot be considered as part of the as part of the decision that a hearing officer will make,” Signor explained. These specifications may be re-assessed on a case by case basis.
A conservative estimate of the time frame of the entire process, according to Signor, is about 60 days, depending on the number of witnesses interviewed and including time for pauses and delays due to the wellness of both the parties or other reasons.
Outcomes of the Formal Complaint
If the respondent has been found in violation of the sexual misconduct policy, there are a range of potential sanctions they may face. “There's a wide range, everything from … having to go through trainings around these kinds of things,” explained Martinez. “Moving rooms … [or] imposing a no contact directive, that puts the onus on that individual to keep taking a sort of stay away from the complainant,” he added.
More serious violations can also result in a period of suspension lasting one or more semesters, placement on probation which means that the student found in violation would be ineligible to study abroad and ultimately even permanent expulsion from the university.
Resolutions Don’t Always Require a Formal Complaint
In lieu of a formal complaint, survivors can consider other routes: “There are a wide range of options short of actually going through a formal complaint ... I have helped to facilitate agreements between two parties, whereas they essentially agree not to speak to one another, where one of them may agree to move to another side of campus just to avoid the connection, where sometimes they even agree if they have the same courses, or they have the same work schedules to try to change sections of courses,” Martinez highlighted.
Additionally, if a formal complaint is filed, at any point during an investigative process, the parties can decide to opt for an Administrative Resolution instead. This resolves the matter without a formal hearing and through community based remedies that inculcate active accountability for respondents.
Safeguards for the Complainant’s Wellbeing
In a recent report by Know Your IX, a U.S. based advocacy group working to address gender-based violence in educational institutions, 39 percent of survivors who reported sexual violence to their schools experienced a substantial disruption in their education. More specifically, 27 percent of survivors who reported took a leave of absence, 20 percent transferred schools and nearly 10 percent dropped out entirely.
According to Signor, there are a range of measures put in place to support the complainant through the process and mitigate the disruptions to their academic life and wellbeing.
“There's what we call a no contact directive. This is where, once a complaint is started, we notify both parties [that they] are advised not to have contact with each other through third parties, social media, that sort of thing, in order to not intimidate or harass the other person to drop the complaint, because it is very emotional for a student to go through this process,” explained Signor.
Interim measures can also involve academic accommodations, or residential accommodations, which includes changing residential halls, if necessary. That said, Signor recognized the challenge of implementing these accommodations in a campus as small as NYUAD: “You can go from the highline to the dining hall and you will see the same person every single day. And that can be very hard on a student, especially if you're going through the investigation.”
Perpetrator backlash includes retaliatory cross filing — the alleged perpetrator preemptively filing a complaint against the original complainant — or other kinds of abuse to silence or scare the survivor. Martinez highlighted: “We take retaliation in this context very seriously. It's a violation in and of itself, actually. And so it's something that we would be on the lookout for and would be prepared to respond to if that were to happen.”
Furthermore, nodding to the other sources of support, Wadhwa encouraged students to seek out and work with counselors. Survivors are also connected to the survivors’ support group in New York, an additional community they can rely on.
Signor emphasized that a survivor does not need to file a formal complaint or initiate a formal investigation to access these resources and accomodations.
Towards Building a Culture of Support on Campus
“We always welcome students within the HPO to identify gaps, let us know where we can be doing better and how we can improve our awareness education,” Wadhwa highlighted. “We always welcome students formally or informally to connect with our offices about the ways that they can also lend support.”
A significant issue is the underreporting of gender based harassment and assault on college campuses. From inadequacies in policy implementation and privacy concerns to fears of retaliation and cultures of shaming survivors, there are a range of reasons why a survivor may choose not to come forward.
To help fill these gaps, student organizers compliment the work of HPO in constructing a culture of solidarity with survivors. Moaza Almheiri, Class of 2022 began the Orange Sticker Initiative, which started off with a simple Facebook post in an effort to mount support for survivors. “The idea was to hand the sticker out to whoever is a safe space for survivors on campus, someone who is willing to walk someone around if they feel threatened or unsafe and support them through the reporting process.”
Lulu Qonita, Class of 2021 and Health Promotion Office Intern added: “Make sure that you have your support system, whether that is family, friends, counselling or Office of Health Promotion and Sexual Misconduct Support. Also, some people do not have the time and energy to spend on reporting. Some people feel empowered by it. There is no right or wrong thing to do, the most important thing is to take care of yourself. Your well-being is so important. In the end, the decision is yours.”
If you, or someone you know, have experienced sexual harassment and assault, refer to the resources below:
Counseling Center: +971 2-628-8100 during business hours
Wellness Exchange: +971 2-628-5555
Mary Signor:
Tina Wadhwa:
Michael Martinez:
Sexual Misconduct Report Form
Huma Umar is Features Editor. Email her at
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