Are Survivors on Your Campus Getting the Support They Need?

Posted by On Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Even if critical resources for survivors of sexual violence are readily available on your campus or in your community, basic factors like limited time and money can prevent someone from accessing them. By eliminating these potential barriers to access, you can empower survivors to get the help they need.

For example, Title IX requires schools to provide interim measures to survivors before the final outcome of an investigation in order to make sure sexual harassment does not continue and interfere with the survivor’s access to education programs and activities. But some interim measures such as counseling services and housing assistance may involve fees or costs that impose an unnecessary burden on survivors and could even discourage them from requesting such basic protective measures.

Indeed, the Department of Education (ED) recognized this barrier in its recent FAQ on Title IX, explaining, “If a school determines that it needs to offer counseling to the complainant as part of its Title IX obligation to take steps to protect the complainant while the investigation is ongoing, it must not require the complainant to pay for this service.”

Know Your IX recently wrote an open letter to ED asking for further clarification on this issue:

The 2014 guidance recognized that fees constitute a barrier to accessing needed support…The guidance should be clarified to recognize that the financial costs associated with other interim measures such as housing assistance, academic support, other mental health and substance abuse services, disability services, and medical services should not constitute a barrier for students to access them. There is no reason why one interim accommodation – counseling – should be free for survivors while other similarly essential services are not.

It looks like the Department of Education might be listening. In their recent resolution agreement, ED required Princeton University to “provide the students identified in the complaint with remedies relating to the educational and other expenses incurred from the date on which each student first reported alleged sexual violence to the University to the date of resolution” (emphasis added).

In addition to these costs, schools should also pay attention to other consequences of sexual violence on survivors such as class attendance and lower grades, which can lead to less visible costs such as lost scholarships and dropped classes. Recent research has found that experiencing sexual violence has a significant negative impact on a woman’s academic performance. The more severe the victimization is, the greater the impact on the survivor’s GPA.

In a thoughtful piece for the Washington Post, Cari Simon, the Fellow for the Harvard Law School Gender Violence Program, recommends several ways to redress some of the academic costs of sexual violence on survivors:

  • Reach out to students whose grades suddenly plummet before placing them on probation to find out why their grades have dropped.
  • Provide ways for survivors to remedy transcripts that have suffered in the wake of an assault.
  • Let survivors keep scholarships even if their GPA dips below minimum eligibility requirements.
  • When reviewing transcripts for admissions to graduate programs, offer students the opportunity to explain low grades that may have been affected by sexual violence.

These kinds of barriers to support don’t just exist on campus but in the community as well. The Times-Picayune recently reported that hospitals in Louisiana were billing rape victims for forensic exams. In essence, the survivors were footing the bill for the investigation. “It feels like a crime happened to you,” one survivor explained in the article, “and then you’re getting charged for the crime.”

The Violence Against Women Act requires states that are eligible for “STOP” funding, which funds many services for violence against women programs and services, to pay for a survivor’s sexual assault medical forensic exam regardless of whether the survivor reports to the police. According to Janine Zweig at the Urban Institute, at a minimum these exams must include:

  • examining physical trauma
  • determining penetration or force
  • interviewing the patient
  • collecting and evaluating evidence

While some states cover other services as well, survivors who receive additional services during the exam may find themselves with a bill for those services. In Louisiana, for instance, some hospitals were giving drugs that could help prevent an HIV infection to victims of sexual violence — and charging them for it. Other hospitals were charging victims for pregnancy tests administered in the aftermath of an assault. Some of these bills ran into the thousands of dollars. As one survivor told the Times-Picayune, “You never really think, ‘Is raped covered by insurance?’”

Fortunately, after the Times-Picayune broke the story the Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, issued an executive order to compensate survivors for more of their treatment.

Universities and colleges may be well positioned to help students navigate these costs as well. Informed campus advocates and counselors can make sure students have access to resources on and off campus and that they benefit from any fee waivers or financial support to which they are entitled. Survivors shouldn’t be discouraged from seeking help because of how much it costs. Nor should they begin the process of recovering only to find themselves suddenly financially burdened as well. Survivors should be able to focus on healing without worrying about how to pay for it.

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