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OCR’s UVA Title IX Findings and Resolution
Posted by On Wednesday, May 11, 2016

As schools plan for the next academic year, it’s an opportunity to look back at how Title IX policies, procedures, and prevention programs can be improved for effectiveness and Title IX compliance. To help guide this effort, it’s instructive to look at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ resolution agreement with the University of Virginia, which is a comprehensive real case study of Title IX compliance. While the OCR found that UVA’s sexual assault and sexual misconduct policies violated Title IX, UVA’s revised policies and procedures for investigating and resolving reports of sexual harassment and violence have the OCR’s stamp of approval.

From the OCR’s UVA investigation and guidance documents, we’ve compiled the following list of essential steps to achieving Title IX compliance and increasing campus safety.

Title IX Coordinator

In April 2015, the OCR issued a Dear Colleague Letter reminding schools that receive federal financial assistance to designate at least one employee who has the time, training, and authority to address complaints, as well as coordinate and oversee the school’s efforts to comply with Title IX and related laws. The DCL states that this Title IX coordinator should report directly to “senior leadership,” such as the college or university president, to avoid any conflicts of interest. Schools should not designate persons with other job duties that may interfere with their ability to fair and impartial. Another takeaway from the DCL is that interfering with a Title IX coordinator’s efforts to do their job violates Title IX’s anti-retaliation provision.

A Letter to Title IX Coordinators was also issued with a Resource Guide explaining their responsibilities and authority. These documents emphasize the importance of each school having a dedicated person who has the necessary training to coordinate responses to all reports and complaints raising Title IX issues.

Title IX Policies

The Resource Guide emphasizes that Title IX coordinators play an important role to ensure a nondiscriminatory environment. Specifically, the OCR recommends that Title IX coordinators should be involved in drafting and revising a school’s Title IX policies and grievance procedures to make sure they:

  • Explain prohibited behavior and conduct proceedings in plain English
  • Define prohibited behavior the same across all policies
  • Encourage reporting

Additionally, policies and procedures should be made available in places where they are easily found, applied uniformly in all cases involving sexual/interpersonal harassment or violence against students, and reviewed at least annually, and sooner if laws change.

The White House Task Force’s Resource Guide and notalone.gov provide checklists and model definitions of prohibited conduct.  In addition, the Association for Student Conduct Administration offers these recommendations:

  • Define consent and incapacitation (intoxicated vs. incapacitated)
  • State that students or the institution may initiate a complaint
  • Do not place time limits on filing a complaint
  • Encourage reporting by including an amnesty policy for conduct violations involving alcohol or drugs at or near the time of the incident

Grievance Proceedings

The OCR’s Q&A states that provisions for “adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation of complaints, including the opportunity for both the complainant and alleged perpetrator to present witnesses and evidence,” should be included in a school’s grievance procedures.  And Title IX requires schools to “adopt and publish grievance procedures providing for the prompt and equitable resolution of student and employee sex discrimination complaints.” (OCR on Title IX and Sexual Violence, C-1)

A school’s resources and support, not Title IX, determine the most appropriate adjudication model to determine the facts of a case. The most common models are:

  • Single investigator
  • Administrative or panel hearing
  • Hybrid of hearing and single investigator models

Appearance of Conflict of Interest

In the OCR’s UVA Letter of Finding, it found an “appearance of a conflict of interest” based on the multiple roles played by a key individual in the panel hearing process: “the same individual went from being tasked under the [Sexual Misconduct Policy] to ‘identify forms of support or immediate interventions’ for the complainant to being a neutral decision-maker, and then to possibly defending a decision of the [Sexual Misconduct Board] Panel on appeal.” UVA LOF, p. 15)

Since most of these cases involve “he said-she said” situations with alcohol or drug impairment, it is critical that decisions are made by  persons who are impartial and trained in the complexities of sexual assault, where the effects of trauma can affect victims’ reactions and ability to recall details. The Association for Student Conduct Administration has put together a list of training topics for adjudicators and hearing board members. (See ASCA’s Student Conduct Administration & Title IX: Gold Standard Practices for Resolution of Allegations of Sexual Misconduct on College Campuses, Appendix A.)

It is interesting to note that the Commonwealth of Virginia is considering a system of resolving sexual assault cases outside of universities made up of impartial trained investigators, which was first proposed by John Banzhaf, a public interest law professor at George Washington University.

While OCR guidance and court orders don’t provide specific answers, they provide guidelines that allow flexibility to address misconduct in a way that reflects your student population and administrative resources, as long as the response is prompt and impartial.

Prompt and equitable

When evaluating policies and procedures, the OCR looks for these critical elements to meet the “prompt and equitable” standard for Title IX compliance:

  • Notice to students and employees of the procedures, including where complaints may be filed;
  • Application of the procedures to complaints alleging discrimination and harassment carried out by employees, other students, or third parties;
  • Provision for adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation of complaints, including the opportunity for both the complainant and respondent to present witnesses and other evidence;
  • Designated and reasonably prompt timeframes for the major stages of the complaint process;
  • Written notice to both parties of the outcome of the complaint and any appeal; and
  • Assurance that the recipient will take steps to prevent recurrence of any sex discrimination or harassment found to have occurred, and to correct its discriminatory effects on the complainant and others, if appropriate. (OCR’s UVA LOF.

Basically, if a school’s policies and procedures contain these Title IX elements they also satisfy due process requirements afforded to students attending public institutions, which require:

  • Written notice of the allegations and nature of the evidence; and
  • A fair opportunity to present the student’s position, explanations, and evidence.

We’ve previously written about due process requirements, including the differences between conduct proceedings vs. criminal trials, and the right to cross-examine witnesses. As pointed out in our post, the OCR’s position on allowing the accused to question adverse witnesses through the hearing officer – but not direct cross examination – does not violate constitutional due process.

Campus Climate Surveys

In order to inform these policies, procedures, and prevention programs each school should conduct an annual “climate assessment” to gather data from students about incidents of sexual harassment and violence, find ways to encourage reporting, and develop prevention strategies that meet the needs of your campus community. The primary goal of the AAU climate survey was to inform policies to prevent and respond to sexual assault and misconduct.

In addition to informing policies and creating effective prevention strategies, conducting campus climate surveys provides critical data for allocating resources, which we have written extensively about on this blog. And the OCR has required climate surveys in several resolution agreements: University of Virginia, Michigan State University, Ohio State UniversityUniversity of Montana, Southern Methodist University, Lehigh University, Harvard Law School, Lyon College, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, University of Dayton, Cedarville University, Glenville State College, Kentucky Wesleyan College, State University of New York, Rockford University.

Conclusion

Every college and university has a unique student population with its own culture and complexity. Our goal at CampusClarity is to provide useful information to help all schools reach a common goal:  create policies, procedures, and prevention programs that eliminate sexual harassment on campus, off campus, and online.

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Are Climate Surveys Part of Title IX/Clery Act Compliance?
Posted by On Wednesday, September 9, 2015

On April 29, 2014, the White House Task Force issued its “Not Alone” report with an overview of how to plan and conduct a campus sexual assault climate survey, as well as a sample survey based on best practices. The report urges “schools to show they’re serious about the problem by conducting the survey next year.”

In a May 2015 article, “Climate Surveys Are Coming,” readers were told, “The task force’s suggestion that schools conduct climate surveys is one of several signals that surveys soon will be required as part of a Title IX/Clery Act compliance program.”

On the same day that the White House report came out, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued the guidance document, “Questions & Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence,” which listed conducting climate surveys as one of the ways to “limit the effects of the alleged sexual violence and prevent its recurrence,” if a victim requests confidentiality and does not want formal action taken against the alleged perpetrator.

Other signals that campus climate surveys soon may be mandated include OCR agreements resulting from Title IX investigations and compliance reviews that require schools to conduct surveys, including: Michigan State University, Ohio State University, University of Montana, Southern Methodist University, Lehigh University, Harvard Law School, Lyon College, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, University of Dayton, Cedarville University, Glenville State College, Kentucky Wesleyan College, State University of New York, and Rockford University.

Instead of waiting for federal laws or Title IX guidance that mandate climate surveys, some states have already enacted laws requiring them:

  • Maryland House Bill 571 requires institutions of higher education to “DEVELOP AN APPROPRIATE SEXUAL ASSAULT CAMPUS CLIMATE SURVEY, USING NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED BEST PRACTICES FOR RESEARCH AND CLIMATE SURVEYS,” and submit to the Maryland Higher Education Commission on or before June 1, 2016 (and every two years thereafter), a report aggregating the data collected by the survey, including:
        1. Types of misconduct
        2. Outcome of each complaint
        3. Disciplinary actions taken by institutions
        4. Accommodations made to students
        5. Number of reports involving alleged nonstudent perpetrators
  • The New YorkEnough is Enough” law signed on July 7, 2015, requires all New York colleges and universities to conduct campus climate surveys at least every other year. The survey requirement goes into effect on July 7, 2016.
  • The State of Washington passed a new law (SSB 5518.SL), requiring state universities, the regional universities, The Evergreen State College, the community colleges, and the technical colleges to conduct a campus climate survey and report their findings to the governor and legislature by December 31, 2016.
  • Louisiana passed a new law (SB 255) which provides, “When funding is made available, each public postsecondary education institution shall administer an annual, anonymous sexual assault climate survey to its students.”
  • In addition, the Massachusetts legislature is considering Bill S. 650, which would create a task force to develop a sexual assault climate survey to be administered by colleges and universities selected by the task force.

Meanwhile, Boston University launched a student survey in March 2015 (see FAQs about BU’s survey) and, while not required by law, the University of California conducted a campus climate survey on its campuses in Spring 2013 (see results and FAQs). Previously, we’ve reported on published data from other climate surveys, what experts say, and how to get started.

With Congress back in session, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act may have gained some momentum from the July 29th hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. Testimony received at that hearing included strong support from the Association of American Universities for campus climate surveys, pointing out that it is important that schools directly or indirectly control survey administration so that it addresses the unique circumstances of individual campuses.

We will continue to watch this closely as the patchwork quilt of climate survey requirements continues to unfold. We will also be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, October 13th with Peter Novak from University of San Francisco and Jessica Ladd from Sexual Health Innovations about climate surveys and data.  Follow our twitter account @CampusClarity for the link to register as the date gets closer.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, May 22, 2015

A new study reveals a sexual assault epidemic at one school in New York, Huffington Post publishes a list of schools under Title IX investigation for sexual harassment, and U.S. News looks at what’s working and what still needs to be done in the fight against campus sexual assault.

New Study Published on the Prevalence of Sexual Assault

We’ve written extensively about the debate over the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, and the need for more data about the rate at which college students are victimized by sexual violence. Now, a new study published by the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests there is at least one upstate New York university where over 18% of women will become victims of rape or attempted rape by the end of their freshman year. Rape was defined as “vaginal, oral, or anal penetration using threats of violence or use of physical force, or using the tactic of victim incapacitation.” 15% of the women surveyed were victims of completed or attempted rape while they were incapacitated, and a further 9% were victims of completed or attempted rape by force. While the survey’s small sample size means that it will not be putting the debate over the nation-wide prevalence of sexual assault to rest, it serves as further evidence of the desperate need to address college campus rapes.

Schools under Title IX Investigation for Sexual Harassment Cases

The Department of Education’s OCR has been disclosing the names of schools under Title IX investigation for failing to properly adjudicate sexual assault cases for some time. What they haven’t done, until now, is release the names of schools under Title IX investigation for mishandling sexual harassment cases. Now, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Huffington Post, that list of schools is available—click the link above to see it on their website. The Huffington Post makes a strong argument for the relevance of this information to current and prospective students of the listed institutions, pointing out that besides the impact harassment itself has on a student’s well-being and learning environment, such behavior is “inextricably linked” to sexual assault.

Sexual Assault: What’s Working, What Work Still needs to be Done

This piece from US News and World Report takes a look back at some of the efforts to combat sexual assault we’ve seen over the past few years. While the article highlights impressive gains, especially in the arena of increased awareness, it also points out that there is much work that still needs to be done. The piece calls for ongoing training programs that make an actual effort to change campus culture, as opposed to brief sessions intended only to fulfill a legal requirement, and for colleges “to take a more comprehensive approach to addressing sexual assault, rather than a piece-by-piece approach.”

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, May 8, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have two different articles focusing on different aspects of the data released last Tuesday by the Department of Education and a list of seven things to know about CASA from the National Law Review.

Good News: The Number of Reported Sexual Assaults is Up

The data released by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Federal Student Aid office (FSA) last Tuesday in response to a request from Senators Barbara Boxer, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Tim Kaine, confirmed a trend we’ve noted earlier —the number of reported sexual assaults on college campuses has been and continues to increase dramatically. In 2009, 3,300 assaults were reported. In 2013, there were over 6,000 reports. As we and others have covered extensively, this is a positive development in the fight against campus sexual violence, suggesting that increased awareness has made students feel more comfortable reporting incidents of sexual violence than they did in the past. However, as pointed out by this article from the Christian Science Monitor, the number of reported assaults still trails far behind the numbers reported in anonymous surveys, indicating there is still much work to do.

Bad News: The Length of OCR Investigations is Also Up

One unfortunate side effect of the federal government’s aggressive efforts to address campus sexual violence is a dramatic increase in the average length of Title IX investigations. The same report discussed in the above story reveals that the average OCR investigation now takes 1,469 days—around four years, meaning that even a student who filed a complaint as a freshman would graduate before the investigation was resolved. As this piece from Bloomberg Business points out, there are serious consequences of an investigation dragging on that long—solutions to the problems that led to the complaint are delayed, the facts of the pertinent cases become more difficult to ascertain, and victim/survivors are denied closure. However, as the renewed focus on sexual assault leads to more and more complaints and investigations, the OCR has seen its budget cut — reducing its full-time staff from 1,148 to 544 between 1980 and 2014 — contributing to delays and a backlog of cases.  The President’s budget proposal and Senators Kaine, Boxer, and Gillibrand have called for increased funding for the OCR.

The National Law Review Tells You What You Need to Know About CASA

If you follow this blog regularly you’ll have seen this analysis of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, the proposed law with bipartisan support that would introduce new, more stringent regulations for how colleges and universities handle sexual harassment and violence. The article above, published by the National Law Review, highlights seven aspects of the proposed law you should be aware of, including increased fines, a Campus Climate Survey requirement, and broader reporting requirements.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, May 1, 2015

Why prevention efforts need to start as early as high school, the University of California’s response to the California State Auditor’s review and OCR investigations, and Bud Light retracts an ill-considered slogan.

Sexual Violence Starts in High School—Prevention Must Too

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 44% of sexual assaults are committed when the victim is not yet 18. This piece in the Huffington Post by writer and activist Soraya Chemaly makes an important point: Clearly sexual assault does not begin in college. Prevention efforts shouldn’t either. Chemaly goes on to outline other alarming statistics about the young ages of both victim/survivors and perpetrators and points to a number of horrific rape cases involving high school-aged victims and perpetrators to make her case that high schools can and must do more to address sexual violence. She also outlines some of the obstacles to that seemingly obvious step, including the lack of available resources and discomfort of having a conversation about these difficult topics with teenagers. Nevertheless, Chemaly stresses beginning prevention as early as possible is crucial not only to protect American high schoolers but also to provide them with the tools they need to protect themselves when they leave home for college.

How the UC System is Starting to Address It’s Sexual Violence Problem

This piece from USA Today follows up on the University of California in the midst of OCR investigations of several of the state’s largest campuses, including UCLA and UC Berkeley, and nearly a year after the California State Auditor released their report on the UC system’s sexual assault practices. The article covers the background of the report and investigations, focusing on the efforts of student activists in filing a Clery Act complaint and Title IX claims against UC Berkeley. It also reports on what the UC system has done to address the inadequacies which led to the investigations and were covered by the CSA report. These changes include mandatory sexual violence prevention training, the hiring of confidential survivor advocates, and a survivor resource specialist. However, university officials and activists alike stress how much more work remains if the UC system is to do all it can to prevent sexual violence and support its victim/survivors.

Bud Light Corrects a Thoughtless Slogan

According to a poorly thought-out slogan featured on new packaging, Bud Light is “the perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” It didn’t take long for Reddit and Twitter users to point out what apparently slipped past everyone at Anheuser-Busch: The ugly way that particular slogan recalls the connection between intoxication and sexual assault, and especially the way alcohol can and is used as a weapon by perpetrators against their victims. To the company’s credit, an apology was issued swiftly and the offending slogan won’t be printed again. Still, the whole episode is an important reminder of the need to consider language and how it affects culture and behavior.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 13, 2015

An interview with the director of new documentary The Hunting Ground, the Clery act turns 25, and the OCR reveals it is investigating four more schools—pushing the total over 100.

The Hunting Ground Director on Courageous Survivors and the Birth of the Film

An interview with Director Kirby Dick about his latest documentary, The Hunting Ground, offers a disturbing portrait of the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses as he describes “hearing the same story over and over” when interviewing victim/survivors about their assault, sexual predators, and the institution’s response. This interview with Dick in the National Post offers sobering insight into the process of the film’s creation. Dick talks about how the conversation sparked by campus screenings of his previous film, The Invisible War, which dealt with sexual assault in the military, led him and producer Amy Zeiring to make a documentary about the same crime in the context of higher education. During Q&As after showing The Invisible War, students quickly turned the discussion to campus sexual assault and then he started getting emails and letters asking him to “please make a film.” Dick says it’s exciting to see the courage of college-aged advocates who “take on their institutions…to create this national debate,” but creating safe campus environments “should be on everyone.”

Clery Act Turns 25

Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Clery Act, named in memory of Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh freshman who was sexually assaulted and murdered in her dorm. The law requires colleges and universities to disclose reports of crimes committed on and near campus. Earlier this month marked the second anniversary of the Campus SaVE Act  that expanded higher education institutions’ crime reporting requirements to include relationship violence, stalking, and hate crimes based on gender identity and national origin.   In addition, the Campus SaVE Act requires colleges and universities to develop comprehensive prevention programs to train students and employees how to recognize, report, respond to, and prevent campus sexual violence.

OCR Now Investigating Over 100 Schools

Last week we reported that Grinnell College has requested an OCR investigation of their own sexual assault investigation procedures. This week we have a story that makes it clear that if that request is granted, Grinnell will be far from alone. In fact, as of this month, the Office for Civil Rights is investigating over a hundred schools for possible non-compliance with Title IX and the Clery act, an all-time high. When the OCR first released the list of schools under investigation last April there were fifty-five schools under investigation.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 6, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have Grinnell’s unusual request to be investigated by the OCR and two stories related to a topic we’re particularly interested in: preventative training for sexual violence and substance abuse.

Grinnell Requests an OCR Investigation of Themselves

Grinnell College has made the unusual and perhaps unprecedented move of requesting that the OCR investigate their handling of sexual assault cases. According to a statement by Grinnell’s president, Raynard Kington, “If Grinnell has fallen short at any point, I want to know about it now, continue to address the problems, and make things right for our students.” Since then it has also been made known that the request came in anticipation of a now-published Huffington Post piece alleging mishandling of three sexual assault cases at Grinnell. According to a letter Kington sent to the campus, “We have specifically invited OCR to review the cases [The Huffington Post] has highlighted to us.” The student and faculty group Dissenting Voices, which believes Grinnell’s sexual assault policies are inadequate, has described the request as an “unprecedented attempt to preemptively control the framing of the issue,” pointing out that six students had already filed complaints with the OCR.

California SB 695 Would Mandate Sexual Violence Prevention Program for High School Students

Federal law (the Campus SaVE Act) already requires colleges and universities to offer sexual assault prevention training to incoming students, but SB 695 introduced last week would require California students to learn about sexual assault violence, and healthy relationships in high school health classes. The bill would further require health classes to teach the affirmative “yes means yes” definition of consent required for the state’s colleges and universities participating in state financial aid programs. Co-author of SB 695, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson says that it would “give students the skills they may need to navigate difficult situations, and prevent sexual assault before it occurs.”

Substance Abuse Training Must be Reinforced to be Effective

A new study suggests that the effects of  substance abuse training typically administered to college freshmen at or before the start of their college careers tend to wear off over in the course of the year. A study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that a month after receiving alcohol education of any kind, 82% of students reported they were drinking less. However, a year later 84% of those same students reported they were drinking as much as they had at before the alcohol education. They also found that alcohol education was particularly effective for inexperienced drinkers and women. These findings suggest that reminding students how to party smart, through text messages, emails, or ongoing training, should be part of an effective prevention program.

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How Can Campuses Improve Reporting?
Posted by On Monday, November 17, 2014

After schools released their Annual Clery Reports last month, it became apparent that the number of reported sexual assaults was on the rise. But rather than interpreting these numbers as a crime wave on college campuses, most experts saw the increase as a good sign. It meant that awareness about sexual assault was spreading on campuses, reporting procedures were improving, and survivors felt more comfortable coming forward. As the headline at the Huffington Post announced, “Colleges are Reporting More Sexual Assaults, And That’s A Great Sign.”

But if schools want to improve reporting even more, what are some steps they can take to make it happen?

Inform Students What Constitutes Sexual Violence

The reasons survivors of sexual violence choose not to report their assault to the police are complex and varied. There are of course obvious factors like the availability and accessibility of resources. Other important factors that can influence the decision to report include shame, fear of retaliation, distrust of authorities, and cultural or familial pressures.

Research also suggests, however, that how students understand an incident influences whether or not they report. According to the Campus Sexual Assault Study (2007), the most common reasons for not reporting were related to individuals’ perception of the incident. Over half of all victims who didn’t go to the police said they didn’t think the incident was serious enough to report and over a third didn’t report because they were unsure that what they experienced was a crime.

Similarly, when studying the informal disclosure of intimate partner violence, researchers Kateryna Sylaska and Katie Edwards found that the motives the survivors attributed to their partner’s violence also mattered. When individuals attributed their partner’s violence to “anger or jealousy” they were more likely to talk to someone than when they attributed that violence to “controlling, protecting, or a loving motive.” This research points to the importance of teaching students what behaviors qualify as sexual assault. Many students simply don’t know.

Train Your Campus on How to Respond to Disclosures

Most survivors, however, do tell someone about their assault. It’s just that most choose not to go to the police, campus authorities, or formal support services. For example, according to the Campus Sexual Assault study, while only 16% of physically forced sexual assault victims and 8% of incapacitated sexual assault victims visited a formal support service, and a paltry 13% and 2% respectively went to a law enforcement agency, 70% and 64% disclosed to someone close to them: a friend, family member, roommate, or intimate partner. Thus, if we wish to help survivors, it might be worthwhile to train students, faculty, and staff on how to respond when someone discloses a sexual assault to them. These informal support networks can also give survivors information about physical and mental health services they need and act as conduits to other university resources.

Give Survivors Choices

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind, that not all responses to survivor’s disclosures are equally helpful. Some can dissuade them from seeking further help or even re-traumatize them. In their research, Sylaska and Edwards discovered some important facts about what reactions survivors found helpful.

Helpful reactions included

• providing emotional support,
• allowing the victim to talk about the abuse, and
• providing practical or tangible support (like a place to stay).

Negative reactions included

• pressuring the victim to act in a certain way,
• not taking the violence seriously, or
• blaming the victim.

Survivor responses to advice were mixed. Advice was helpful when sought, the researchers found, but unsolicited advice felt frustrating and disempowering. This is why pressuring a survivor to report can actually be harmful. After all, a survivor’s goals don’t always align with formal reporting. As one activist explained, “a survivor’s number one priority is not necessarily to get their perpetrator arrested, it’s about moving forward and feeling safe in one’s community and healing.” Indeed, one ongoing controversy currently debated on college campuses is the extent to which faculty and staff are required to report to higher ups when students disclose a sexual assault to them. Advocates worry that requiring employees to report takes control away from survivors, potentially inflicting more distress on them.

Given the emphasis on supporting survivor autonomy, however, there is a hopeful shift at some schools and police departments to a victim-centered approach, which focuses on the needs of the survivor. New York Magazine recently profiled the program “You Have Options” developed by Police Detective Carrie Hull for the Ashland Police Department. You Have Options gives survivors more control over their case, including the whether to pursue the complaint as an “anonymous tip or a full criminal investigation” and the option to “upgrade or downgrade their investigation at any time.” The program also follows best practices regarding interviewing victims and ensuring they are well supported throughout the process. Indeed, Hull’s original aim was to create a space where victims felt comfortable talking to the police. “We found we needed to get people to a place they didn’t feel like they were being pulled or pushed through the process,” Hull elaborated in the  article. “And instead they were leading the way.”

During Senator Claire McCaskill’s third roundtable on campus sexual violence, Hull talked about the program and her initial reservations that giving victims more control might hinder police from catching perpetrators. But she soon realized that this mindset was exactly wrong. The victims are “never responsible for the offender doing that next offense,” she explained. “The offender is responsible for that next offense, not the victim…what I think we have to realize is that we are doing something about it by allowing a survivor to enter the criminal justice system in the way that’s right for them” (1:02:46).

And Hull’s approach has had overwhelming positive results. According to New York Magazine, reports have increased by 106 percent since the program officially began last year. “We shifted our focus as a team to what does a survivor want, and out of that came better healing, but also identifying way more perpetrators,” Hull said.

A similar program has now been developed at the Southern Oregon University in Ashland and Hull’s program served as the model for proposals in Senators Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand’s Campus Accountability and Safety Act. Perhaps You Have Options can serve as an example for other programs around the country.

 

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, October 31, 2014

Activists pick up mattresses across the country, schools bring in professional investigators, and a statistical analysis of the increase in reported sexual assaults.

Emma Sulkowicz Has Inspired a Mattress-Carrying Movement

If you follow news about sexual assault on college campuses you’ve almost certainly heard of Emma Sulkowicz, a sexual assault victim/survivor who is carrying her mattress everywhere she goes on the Columbia campus until her assailant is removed from the university, or leaves of his own volition. As her story has gained more and more attention, Sulkowicz has received help carrying her mattress from supporters on the Columbia campus. Now, activists and supporters around the country are helping Emma bear her burden, albeit metaphorically, by carrying mattresses on campus in a #carrythatweight Day of Action meant to raise awareness about sexual assault and show support for victim/survivors of sexual violence. Search the hashtag to see images of activists across the country inspired by Sulkowicz’s senior thesis.

Schools Bring in Outside Investigators to Handle Sexual Assault Cases

Schools having trouble training faculty and administrators to act as criminal investigators are increasingly turning to outside help to resolve on-campus sexual assault cases, often in the form of actual or former criminal investigators. This NPR piece profiles one such investigator, former prosecutor Djuna Perkins, who has helped schools such as Harvard, Emerson, and Amherst investigate sexual assaults. Perkins discusses the difficulties and complications posed by sexual assault cases, and the necessity of looking past facts that less experienced investigators might automatically assume to be indicative of consent. The piece also takes a look at why schools must conduct investigations, as opposed to simply passing such cases on to local law enforcement, and the unique difficulties that can be created by simultaneous law enforcement and university investigations.

A Statistical Analysis of the Increase in Sexual Assault Reporting

Another story that anyone who follows these issues will have seen is the increase in reported sexual assaults in this year’s Clery Annual Security Reports. We’ve written in the past that, perhaps counter-intuitively, the increase in reported sexual assaults is most likely a positive development in the fight against campus sexual violence. This piece from the Washington Post goes deeper into that idea, taking a look at possible explanations for some of the largest increases reported by schools across the country. They point out, for example, that one of the largest increases in reported sexual assaults occurred at Gallaudent University, a school for the deaf and blind whose students may not be able to report to anyone other than the sign language speaking staff and faculty, precluding the possibility that reports would go to law enforcement. Similarly, students at Reed College, another school with a notable increase in reported violence, have demanded that Reed improve their response to sexual violence on campus. The piece speculates that improved procedures are responsible for a bump in the percentage of assaults reported, as opposed to an increase in the number of actual assaults. It’s all yet more evidence that more reporting is a positive development.

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Five Online Resources about the Effects of Trauma on Survivors of Sexual Assault
Posted by On Thursday, September 4, 2014

Survivors don’t always act the way we expect. For example, they may exhibit a flat affect or have trouble remembering events. Some officials find these reactions suspicious and as a result question the credibility of the survivor’s account. But the survivor’s reactions may be the result of the trauma of a sexual assault.

Training your campus community on the effects of trauma can help dispel these misconceptions and create an environment that better supports victim/survivors. Indeed, the OCR’s Title IX FAQ emphasizes the need for schools to educate students and employees on the effects of trauma. The White House’s Not Alone report also highlights the need for better trauma-informed training.

Our courses cover the neurobiological effects of trauma on victim/survivors and we’ve also written about Dr. Rebecca Campbell’s research on this topic. But there are also some excellent, free, online resources that you can use as the school year begins to help inform staff, students, and faculty. Below we highlight a few:

  1. National Sexual Violence Resource Center — “The Brain, Body, and Trauma.”
  2. Dr. David Lisak — Neurobiology of Trauma
  3. Dr. Rebecca Campbell — Neurobiology of Sexual Assault (interview)
  4. Dr. Rebecca Campbell — Seminar on the Neurobiology of Sexual Assault
  5. International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) — Police Response to Violence Against Women

 

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